Culture Trumps Strategy

Organizations may have tremendous leaders and key employees with great talent and who produce powerful results while continually upgrading their capabilities.

Additionally, these talented people build and contribute to a strong business strategy as part of the recipe that will propel the organization forward in a way that engages the whole team.

At the same time, incremental decay may occur elsewhere in the organization and then, one day (usually in a poor response to a major crisis or an inability to handle a great opportunity) it becomes obvious that the organization overall has deteriorated to a point where it may not survive.

This realization is shocking because the weakening usually occurs over a period of time.  It typically happens amongst other successes. The rotting of the organization was hidden beneath the shadow of external success and the brilliance of the leaders and key employees. Any type of decay anywhere within the business can lead to disaster. What part of the hull of a boat can be allowed to rot?  What part of the wings of an airplane do you not need?

boat bottom2

This can also occur when an organization is growing so fast that the focus is only on their successes. By not paying attention to the decay that set in while they were busy with the growth plan, the activity has hidden the breakdown happening elsewhere in the organization. All levels of an organization are important and feed each other.

While the leaders and key employees are using a great business strategy to achieve goals, the culture can trump the strategy and prevent the result that is needed.

The Five Signs of Cultural Decay

1. Attitude

  • Internally, you do not see each other as customers: anytime an organization takes the resources for granted, especially the people , it is a sign of the beginning of the end.
  • Employees see a company as many different teams instead of everyone being on the same team. Employees take a “we” and “them” attitude.
  • No training of soft skills such as attitude, leadership, values etc.:  whether or not technical training is done, the real strength of an organization is its ability to have the right heart.  With the right “soft skills”, anything can be accomplished, including learning all of the technical skills or capabilities.
  • Flexibility and ongoing improvement are not taught: you may teach the soft skills, but you don’t improve the breadth and depth of training over time. If you do not continue improving what you do, one day you will wake up and realize the world has changed around you.

2. Recruiting and Retaining Process

  • Weak hiring process: having no hiring process or the hiring process is focused on intellectual capabilities without understanding the heart capabilities that allow for continuous growth, flexibility and true teamwork. If you are not bringing in the right raw material, you are making your culture worse.
  • Unclear Key Deliverables for each position: the evaluation of a position is done by “feel” rather than measurable deliverables. The position may even have changing deliverables or deliverables that are always the same without any requirement to learn or teach others on the team.
  • Orientation process for the 1st 90 days is non-existent or weak: regardless of the strength of the hiring process, the 1st 30 – 90 days is an opportunity to teach and get the new hire off to a great start.  It is also an opportunity to use the new blood to challenge the old guard to learn and take in new ideas.
  • No career path: it is important to have employees that are looking to learn, be part of something bigger and feel progress. Employees need to see their position and future position in the company as one that is moving forward, instead of working in a static job and environment.

3. Employee Development

  • No regular ongoing two-way evaluations: one of the best ways to pull the motivation out of an “A” player is to not give them concrete feedback on what they are doing well and what they need to work on.  Without feedback that goes in both directions, you can miss the signs you need to pick up from your best sources in all parts of the organization.
  • Slow to fire for attitude (i.e. 30+ days) or for performance (i.e. 90+ days):  putting up with poor attitude or performance sends the message to everyone that it is acceptable.
  • Too much investment in working hard: if not tempered in the right way, it will burn people out which ultimately prevents creativity, risk taking and sound judgment.
  • Too much investment in working smart: part of the risk of working smart is that it sounds good, but many times the results do not actually work out in the production of the idea.

4. Communication

  • No clear values in action: being clear on who we are and what that looks like is a valuable tool. If we are willing to give up the value (i.e. quality) under pressure, we may realize it was more of a strategy than a value.
  • The quality of meetings is inconsistent at getting higher-level results: there is not much life in the meetings and true creativity is being driven by only a few.  Between meetings, there are limited actions taken or results driven based on the meetings.
  • Morale is declining: without morale, the attempt to achieve will not occur.  People need to feel hope and encouragement in order to give it all they have.
  • Turnover is increasing or non-existent: sometimes turnover is needed. However, if turnover is not carefully monitored, you may find that you are losing the “A” players and keeping the “C” players.  That is expensive for training purposes as well as increasing the speed at which your culture decays.

5. Strategy

  • No communication plan to the culture about the strategy: rumors keep employees from working hard and smart since the rumor mill over runs the future.  Employees either end up not knowing where the organization is going or worse, they do not care.
  • Inconsistent message, appears to change mind and direction: your leadership style causes you to look like you are changing direction when you may simply be changing tactics. If this is the message your culture is getting, they may lose confidence in your decisions and destination.
  • Conflicting strategies (i.e. price AND quality):  attempting to implement conflicting strategies without understanding when and where you will do so results in a culture divided.
  • No strategy for causing measurable improvement in your culture as part of your strategic plan: developing all elements of your culture as part of a strong business strategy is missed in many strategic plans.

The Comprehensive Independence Builder

If you are interested in learning more about how culture can trump strategy and the tools that that can help you avoid this uniquely disastrous rot, please contact us.

You may also wish to learn more about our unique process for leaders called The Comprehensive Independence BuilderTM, in which we address all of the obstacles you face and help you use innovative strategies to protect and enhance your organization, improve your quality of life and better achieve your goals.

To schedule your Independence Exploration Session or for more information on our platform, please contact us at 800-786-4332 or



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