Strategies are often created with little thought about how to implement them. In dangerous times - such as those facing organisations doing business in Russia today - a smart strategy is simply not enough to survive or thrive.
Corporate strategies often look great on paper - often designed by the biggest brains for even bigger money. But these glossy visions of the future and the steps needed to exploit opportunities must do more than impress senior management. To add value, which organisations need now more than ever, strategies must be rigorously executed. But too often, too little thought is given to which obstacles the strategy will meet and how to overcome them.
Management guru Peter Drucker famously quipped that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Yet this simple insight hasn’t permeated the Russian business climate yet - even amongst those with international perspectives. Culture is treated as a soft factor - less important and therefore relegated to the non-strategic HR function. The right culture is a nice to have, but not a must have. Strategy on the other hand is a hard factor - critical to get right and therefore hammered out on the executive anvil by those who really matter. Get it right, the mantra goes, and the future is ours!
Yet even the best strategies (those that forsake aspirational aims for brutal truths) give little thought to how to implement the strategy so it will deliver value. This operational area is of little interest to the big brains and VIPs of the strategy team and usually extends to no more than a commitment to some face time at ‘strategic roll out sessions’.
'Roll outs’ can take a few days or a few months, depending on the size and dispersion of the organisation. Strategic C-level players will use the opportunity for an annual ‘touch base’ with the rest of the workforce to evangelise on ‘how it is’ and ‘how it’s going to be.’ But do roll outs really do anything more than tick a box? (Tip: if someone can’t repeat the strategy back to you afterwards it hasn’t been rolled out).
Six months down the line you'll usually find nothing much has changed. Most people are still operating largely as they did before. Their behaviour may appear similar (non compliance) but if you scratch below the surface you may find the reasons to be very different:
Archetype A hasn’t changed his/her behaviour because s/he didn’t listen to what was expected during roll out
Archetype B listened, but simply didn’t get it
Archetype C got it, but doesn’t know how to do what’s being asked
Archetype D gets it, can do it, but disagrees with the strategy and sets about subverting it (maliciously or otherwise)
And archetype E looks round at everyone else not implementing it and concludes they shouldn’t either.
This is culture. And this is how it eats strategy for breakfast.
Failure to address this soft factor is ensuring your strategy - no matter how smart it is - is doomed. If your organisation can afford for strategies to be ignored in these difficult times, then either stop wasting resources on creating strategies, or stop relegating the critical element of culture to non-strategic actors and learn to get to grips with the organisation's culture yourself.
The second part of this blog next week will look at how you can effectively do this. If you can't wait until then, get in touch now with firstname.lastname@example.org for a no obligation discussion on how we're able to support you in this challenge.