Connecting Culture, Strategy, and Execution

Dissonance Leads to Disfunction

Organizational dissonance is when companies enact strategies that are not compatible with their culture and execute actions that are not aligned with their strategic outcomes. If you have been in this situation, you surely have experienced the confusion and frustration that results from it. If a company makes strategic decisions that do not stem from their culture, then all types of disfunctions can occur. For example, setting a strategic focus that is not congruent with the company’s stated Cause, Mission, or Purpose will dilute the motivation those things are meant to ignite. It doesn’t take long for people to recognize that those statements are superficial writings on a poster when the company’s leaders make strategic plans that contradict them.

Another example is when a strategic plan requires particular behaviors such as risk-taking, but the company might have an embedded culture of risk aversion. This becomes destabilizing because employees lose their sense of decision-making principles. On one hand, the expectation is to take more risks to follow the strategic path. On the other hand, there will be entrenched resistance to every action that does not conform to the existing culture. Either the culture needs to be explicitly changed to enable the strategy, or the strategy needs to be planned in a way that is supported by the culture.

Failing to translate strategic actions into daily execution is another form for organizational dissonance. This often occurs when business leaders plan strategy at the executive level and don’t consider how the plan will be carried out. For instance, it is common for leaders to roll out strategic objectives at the beginning of a planning period as target goals for everyone, only to have individual teams continue following their same daily routines and tasks with little regard to how the new strategic objectives impact them. This type of disconnection happens so frequently that many front-line workers and middle managers consider company strategy to be a sideshow or extra, not the primary role to which they are contributing.

To resolve organizational dissonance, companies need to first recognize that culture, strategy, and execution are interdependent on each other. Each one is like a leg on a stool that holds the organization up. All three are needed for the company to succeed. And like the legs of a stool, the three things must work in unison.

Culture, Strategy, and Execution Make a Fine Meal

It is often said that culture eats strategy for breakfast implying that culture is the most important thing. While that is a fun phrase that can be used to emphasize the value of building a healthy company culture, it does not capture an appropriately holistic picture of what is needed to be successful. Culture and strategy are equally important. They both need to be developed, planned, and implemented with purpose. So rather than pitting one against the other in order of importance, it is better to day that culture and strategy compliment each other. Add execution to that mix and now we have a complete meal.