Culture is quite a touchy, feely, amorphous and subjective topic. Leaders have always said, strategy is critical and that’s what makes or mars an institution. Smart people study and build strategy; they get paid the most; they are amongst the most-sought after. The strategic choices we make for our careers, institutions or life determine our future to a large extent. However, I think, strategy is highly over-rated as a topic in the jigsaw puzzle on the road to success. Question before us is to find out if there is anything more important. I think, it’s the culture that determines how well a piece of strategy can be executed and hence, the results! Thus, culture of the place should be the most important aspect in leadership and not strategy.
With increasing avenues for collaboration in the workplace, exchange of views has become easier than ever before. Hence, strategy as a subject is no more the monopoly of a few blue-eyed folks around the corner room. One can copy, innovate and tweak one’s own strategy based on the inputs from the environment and one’s own realization. However, it’s the culture which is much more deep-rooted in the organization and takes a long time to develop. It’s not written on the walls for people to see, absorb, erase and write new stuff. It’s invisible always. This is about what people think is right and what is wrong. It is a set of many assumptions that the stakeholders have subconsciously or unconsciously. It is the so-called DNA of the organization which differentiates one from the other. Two organizations could follow the same strategy, yet the results could be different. Often we associate several factors such as organizational context, leadership, people capability, technology and so on. All of these could be true. However, the point here is that the organization has found sucess or otherwise in any of these factors due to something much deep-seated in it and something that determines the direction that the collective of the organization sails along.
It is easier said that culture is the most critical piece that sets the pace and direction of the organization. It can be a bit rhetorical on one hand. Great leaders have paid due attention to this fact and hence, they invest energies in building a shared understanding of what is right, what is desired and what not to do. This is a painstaking process but extremely rewarding in the long run for the institution. This leads to a sense of pride in the minds of people who are associated with the institution and hence, a sense of commitment to excel. Many leaders often invest all their might behind choosing the right strategy and then jump into execution. Possibly, the results are mixed in such cases because the agents of execution pull the system in different directions leading to confusion and at times, in opposite directions.
Last, but not the least, culture cannot be studied by surveys and dip-stick pulse-checks. Culture caannot be built by inspirational speeches in the town halls, workshops and newsletters. The stakeholders do not see the connect with the purpose and tune out often. Great institutes, whether they are families or clubs or societies or conglomerates live long and stand out because they invest on defining and redefining who they are and what they will do in moments of agony and pleasure alike.
It’s the culture which makes the difference!