How culture can bridge the Strategy to Execution gap

By Lauren Houghton

Published: November 27, 2018

Last Update: April 28, 2020

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Mind the Culture Gap: From Strategy to Execution

Vision means nothing without execution. There is no “secret sauce” that needs exclusive design and delivery and proprietary ownership by external management consultants. Of course, finding a trusted partner able to bring their expertise, research and advice to your business context adds immense value.

Successfully bridging the gap between strategy and execution, requires leadership and culture that both provides a meaningful direction, with a sense of purpose, and results in engagement of both middle managers and the rest of the organization.

THE PACE OF SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE IS HAPPENING FASTER THAN OUR ABILITY TO ADAPT

Disruption is driving the need for more effective practice of LEADERSHIP and the need for a culture of learning in organizations. Rapid technological change and innovation, product commoditization and digitization, mobile app disruption, the demand for transparency and the need for higher employee engagement – these are just some of the demands placed on those leading change at all levels in the organization.

Leadership in this “new normal”, means inspiring and motivating people to change direction, building new strategies, transforming business operating models, and adopting new ways of customer engagement and collaboration.

In this unprecedented time of change, the challenge facing organizations is how to:

  • Lead with shared purpose, that focuses on maintaining stability and driving change and innovation
  • Engage and mobilize the “status quo” rather than resist and hold back
  • Make sense of an environment, that is constantly volatile, unpredictable, uncertain and more complex than ever

Leading transformation of your business, from your blueprint and chosen game plan, is an intentional intervention in the “system, creating a disequilibrium, that asks people to deal with uncertainty, expect losses, experience potential failures, and confront inconvenient truths.” (Ronald Heifetz)

In effect, leaders become the intentional, “Corporate Disruptors” that shape a culture, capability and mindset, that transforms with agility and can manage change sustainably.

TRANSFORM OUR BUSINESS IN THE DIGITAL AGE

We need to change our “culture.” Mention this, eyes roll, heads nod, and we so often hear similar responses: it takes too long, it’s too hard, we tried, it does not work and more.

Culture has the “amorphous” quality about it – “the organization’s shared values and beliefs, defining appropriate and inappropriate behaviors the way we do things around here.”

Why do most attempts at culture change and transformation fail? We seem to have the best competitive strategy and yet that huge gap and divide, becomes “culture” and whether we have or can shift and make things stick.

A McKinsey survey found that only one in three organizational change efforts succeeds. Culture change efforts have even lower levels of success.  A great article by Rich Lyons, Forbes Contributor, listed 3 conditions for success:

  • Leaders with commitment – change is enduring, rather than permanent and so constantly revitalizing itself as market conditions change too. People resist change, so make it stick to course, even when the originator CEO leaves and a new CEO comes in.
  • Line of Sight to Performance – people need to see the bigger purpose, meaning and tangible impact of the change, measured in terms of goals
  • Engagement leads to action, so creating an energy and drive based on “differentiation” to the market

What has been described above are the “levers” for shifting the “wheels of culture” –  structures, systems, work design and leadership skills.  Of these, the more impactful of all, is “Skills “as a key driver or shaper of “culture”, which encompasses areas like leadership, communication and exercise of authority (Human Synergistics International 2008)

Culture

A leader must also demonstrate the ability to alternate between a broad range of behaviors and adapt their approach to the changing demands of the environment and situation. This ambidextrous leader is the crucial bridge between strategy and execution – as such, the leader is fully focused on building capabilities within and across the organization, once meaningful direction and purpose is established.

How are you handling your cycle through market changes, how are you responding to and preparing for disruption – how effectively are you bringing together strategy and capability?

BUILDING CAPABILITY… IN THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE

When I met with the founder of Stratability and Lead Author of THE STRATEGY JOURNEY book about a year ago, I knew I had to be involved and support the Learning Journey that Julie Choo was about to embark on.

STRATABILITY stands for strategic capability and its about using THE STRATEGY JOURNEY framework, a unique methodology, that give you insights and intelligence into your business that you wouldn’t otherwise see, and help you to design and implement solutions that you wouldn’t otherwise deliver.

It is for this reason – when I see the gap out there when it comes to Leadership that I have chosen to bring in my own skills and years of knowledge and experiences in this space to become the Capability Lead at Stratability – so here I am, a co-creator of the book and with the goal to emphasize the need for this “new normal” in leadership that is essential to help organizations navigate their strategy journeys in the digital age – as well as how to make that shift in culture in a pragmatic way.

CULTURE CHANGE REQUIRES GREAT LEADERSHIP

Great leadership drives culture change, and THE STRATEGY JOURNEY offers leaders a proven framework with a methodology comprising five models that works across any industry, including financial services, technology, energy, food, media, public sector and telecommunications.

Leading culture change and bridging the gap between strategy and execution, can create an organization that constantly shapes and reinvigorates, by changing gears to deliver effective…

Strategic Goals

  • Meaningful direction and purpose
  • Values are differentiated and visible day to day
  • Customer is clearly identified as well as the level of experience
  • Specific measurable goals defined for everyone

Organization Structures        

  • Open, meaningful communication and decision-making processes
  • Flatter structures increases volume of communication and influence
  • Mechanisms are in place for giving and receiving feedback – without defending
  • Coordination between different business units clear

Work Design

  • People enjoy their work and understand individual impact too
  • Know what is needed and how to get it done
  • Have control over the “how” and results and can make changes anytime to maximize impact
  • Up to speed on their progress and learning how they are progressing

Process and Systems

culture teamwork leadership

  • Recognition that good ideas come from difference in thought – beyond diversity
  • Achievable targets and effort to ensure best performance vs. don’t make mistakes
  • Mutually agreed goals
  • Achievement celebrate and communication
  • Learning and development enable by “coaching” as a management practice

Communications

  • Open and planned omni channels, defining the why and how to everyone
  • People included in decision and discussion about customer and organizations and potential impacts

Leadership 

  • Protect and surface the leadership voices from below
  • Open transparent exchange of information
  • Energy and focus on what we do and how we do it through our interaction with one another and people

Traditional change management has not progressed as much as we would expect, in delivering consistent and deep change success.  Change begins with a shift in the mental maps or mindsets of people, who are the organization. And this requires an ambidextrous leader, who can shift gears between strategy engagement and mobilizing people for execution.

What is the shift of focus needed, for Leading through this era of Disruption? What are potential solutions and approaches, for strategic and disruptive change? What are your steps to leading change that builds adaptive capacity across your entire business? And how can you get this

By framing your change initiative within a Strategy Journey, this best-practice methodology can help your organization navigate through the many cycles of your business journey.

It’s the “new normal” approach to building agile cultures through leadership, creates strategic growth in your business, while ‘operationalizing’ your organization for continuous business transformation and innovation, in the fast-changing digital age.

Lauren Houghton

About the author

An accomplished strategic advisor and facilitator to executives and managers, Lauren has 18 years’ experience helping business leaders align their strategies for growth and diversification. She is a commercially-focused performance, human resources and organisational effectiveness professional, with extensive experience designing and implementing organisational development strategies and performance management systems for global blue-chip organisations across Asia, Australia and Europe.

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