Strategy VS Culture

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~Sun Tzu 

This is one of my favorite quotes.  I’ve leaned on this to help people understand the need for a balanced approach to solving business problems.  Our tendency seems always to lean on one over the other.  Ensuring that both strategy and tactics are used to drive meaningful execution is a fine art. But what is missing?  Why is it that even in the face of facts supporting your very well-reasoned approach, the organization doesn’t always go along with the plan?  You have a clear strategy with aspirational goals combined with a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) plan of attack.  What could go wrong?

“Culture eats strategy for lunch”  Attributed to Peter Drucker

Really?  Has anybody seen this in action?  I believe I have.  And what is particularly interesting is that there seems to be some controversy to this idea.  So what is happening when we observe this?  I have some opinions about this, but I look forward to learning from you during the #LeadWithGiants tweetchat on Monday, 24 February at 7pm, Eastern time.  On its face, this seems like a very appealing explanation for why things go wrong.  And if it is true, what is a leader to do about it?  Think about it and be prepared to debate based on your experience.  Some of the questions we will address are:

1. We talk a lot about culture, but really, what is culture?

2. And what is strategy?  Is it distinguishable from vision &/or mission?

3. Does culture really eat strategy for lunch, as suggested?  Why or why not?

4. Does strategy shape culture, or culture shape strategy? How?

5. Which is the bigger influence: strategy, culture or tactics?  Why?

6.  Who owns strategy?  Culture?  Why?

7. What is the leader’s role in the Culture=>Strategy=>Tactics equation?

8. What is the follower’s role in the Culture=>Strategy=>Tactics equation?

9. Who is accountable when Culture, Strategy, and Tactics are out of balance?

10. What actions do you as a leader or follower take when you see Culture, Strategy, and Tactics are out of balance?

I very much look forward to hearing from the #LeadWithGiants community on this important topic.  Please join and invite your friends and colleagues to join us on Monday night, 24 February at 7pm eastern. 

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6 Responses to "Strategy VS Culture"

  1. That quote is thought-provoking for sure.
    I’m often a fly by the seat of the pants person but since I’m doing it alone, it works.

    Strategy and tactics. I like it!

  2. Can’t wait to relate my findings and experiences and hear others… Culture eats OR FUELS Strategy for lunch.
    Takes. Strategic enterprise view of HR, Finance and Business Ops.

    • Brian Rensing says:

      I love your thinking, Lisa! Your comment highlights that you can’t choose either culture OR strategy. Both are important and there is a special relationship between the two. Done right, culture is fuel. Otherwise, not so much. Looking forward to engaging on the topic!

  3. Al Gonzalez says:

    This is a wonderful post Brian, thank you! There are two themes that I see throughout your questions, management vs. leadership and trust. I see many managers that oppose and belittle any organizational work that focuses on any of the topics you have outlined in your questions. “There is no time for this crap” is an actual quote I heard recently from a very talented manager. In my experience, these folks are managers, not leaders. If a manager wants to be considered a leader, then she/he starts the very difficult work of addressing the issues you are outlining with your questions. In my experience, in order to debate and agree the great questions you post with an organizational team, there needs to be a high level of trust in the organization. For example, a leader in the making may believe strongly that a good strategy is to invest in project managers that coordinate tactical projects, while the projects are not grounded on established organizational objectives. It takes a lot of trust for the staff members to be share this feedback on the “strategy” with the leader and work together to address the issue. IMHO, developing and maintaining trust takes effort, and if the trust is established, then the work on culture and strategy is possible. Even with trust answering these questions is difficult, without trust it is truly an uphill battle. Thanks again for a great set of questions, I look forward to Monday night!

    • Brian Rensing says:

      What a great add, Al! You are so right on many levels. And the trust thing definitely emerges as a key (central?) element.

      I’d argue that tenacity is equally important. Perhaps more important. This is a quality the leader must embody as s/he will be the catalyst to change – including building trust. There will be many utterances like “who has time for this crap” & these are the attitudes we must bust through. Of course, tenacity + empathy is critical in order to build trust. But it ain’t easy or for the faint of heart!

  4. Sean Glaze says:

    Great topic, Brian. It is the “soft stuff” that really is always the hard stuff for organizations to tackle, and this is the basis of most every event and keynote message I share… looking forward to the responses and conversation that this inspires!