How Workplace Cultures Can Stifle Strategies

How Workplace Cultures Can Stifle Strategies
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Culture versus Strategy in Hong Kong
Thinking over recent reports of Hong Kong’s struggles to control the coronavirus, it is hard not to draw parallels to the challenge in the business world of creating a corporate strategy that is misaligned with its organizational culture.  Imposing strategies on a culture that is not ready or willing to accept it is a recipe for disaster. Here is an example showing how workplace cultures can stifle strategies.

According to a New York Times article in February 2022, Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, commanded that controlling the epidemic as soon as possible was “an overwhelming priority.” This may have worked on the mainland where the government can control the population and results. But this strategy did not work in the special administrative region of Hong Kong which had previously thrived on minimal government intervention.

The strategy was clear, but it relied upon absolute obedience, the ability to lockdown the entire population, and citywide mandatory testing in a population that did not trust the mainland government. As a result, the omicron variant caused an outbreak that took a devastating toll.

There was a huge disconnect between the Chinese leader’s strategy and the cultural norms and expectations of those who were to execute it.

What Can We Learn from This?
Savvy business leaders know that their strategy (the WHAT) must go through their people (the WHO) and their culture (the HOW) to be successfully executed. Successfully achieving strategic goals depends on a culture and a people that support it. Strategy and culture (along with talent) must work together.

Think of culture as the way employees think, behave, and interact. Even if, as a leader, you are clear on where you want to go and why (as Xi Jinping was), the mission is likely to fail if you have not shaped your corporate culture in a way that fully aligns with the strategy.

The Impact of Culture
Our organizational alignment research found that the alignment of strategy and culture accounts for 71% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, and employee engagement. 

Simply put, your corporate culture must align with and support each and every strategic initiative. To ensure that your strategy is set up for success, you need to:

  1. Agree upon the ten dimensions of culture required to best execute your strategy.
  2. Assess your current workplace culture in terms of its organizational health, your performance environment, and the level of strategic alignment.
  3. Prepare people leaders to connect the What (Strategy) and How (Culture) for their teams.
  4. Sustain your cultural transformation by developing culture champions, building change management capabilities, and overcoming obstacles.

The Bottom Line
Have you fully considered the alignment between your strategy and the existing culture during your strategy design phase? If there’s a disconnect, you will need to do some work to create a culture that will accept and promote your vision for change.

To learn more about how workplace cultures can stifle strategies, download  The 3 Levels of Culture that Leaders Must Align with their Strategy

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