Your Company Culture Will Eat Your Strategy for Breakfast

January 24, 2013

Management consultant and certified Scrum/Agile coach Michael Sahota explains why the real keys to breakthrough results are rooted in your company culture, not your tactics and strategy.

Your Company Culture Will Eat Your Strategy for Breakfast
The following diagram is a powerful mental frame to help understand change efforts within organizations. It makes the discernment between tactical, strategic, and cultural levels. One way to use the diagram is to position each change item or activity on the line to show what aspect it is focused on.
More importantly, I use the diagram to engage with clients to explore what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how invested they are in the outcome.

Some typical benefits are listed above the line. Most importantly, break-through results only come from culture –  not tactical or strategic approaches.

  • Tactics – “How do we work?” is about day to day practices and process elements. These are things that a team or organization can adopt.
  • Strategy – “What do we want to achieve” is about aligning the company around key goals and initiatives.
  • Culture – “Who do we want to be?” is about clarifying the organizations reason for existing as well as it’s values and vision.

Relationship Between the Levels

Culture is the foundation that Strategy and Tactics sit on. But culture is like an iceberg – a powerful force that is underwater where you can’t see it.
Sure, it’s possible to work at the levels of tactics and strategy, but that is unlikely to make any lasting change or draw great benefits. Lasting change requires working at all three levels so that the tactics and strategy support the culture.

Relationship to Leadership Agility

Bill Joiner has identified a number of distinct mindsets that can be found with managers/leaders. and his work on Leadership Agility. The following are one to one mappings from types of leaders/mindsets:

  • Experts focus on Tactics: problems and work execution
  • Achievers focus on Strategy: outcomes and the system
  • Catalysts focus on Culture: vision and break-through culture

Acknowledgements & Additional Resources

The deepest inspiration comes from Bill Joiner and his work on Leadership Agility and the different levels of focus. This served as the basis for my model.
I would like to thank a variety of sources for the notion of Culture being mostly hidden – I have seen or read this in a number of places but most vividly from the folks at Crucial Conversations and their book Influencer in particular.
I am grateful for Mike Cottemeyer for helping me understand the difference between Agile Adoption (Tactical) and Agile Transformation (Cultural).
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Michael Sahota, senior principal of Agilitrix. It originally appeared on his company blog. For more on this topic, go to SlideShare for his Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide.

Do you agree that transformative results have to start with company culture rather than strategic or tactical approaches? Let us know in the comments below!

Catalyst & Certified Scrum Coach

<strong>Michael Sahota </strong>is the senior principal of <a href="">Agilitrix</a>, a boutique coaching, training, and facilitation company based out of Toronto. He is a certified Scrum/Agile coach and specializes in organizational change.