If you have studied business or HR management at some point, chances are you will have come across concepts on organisational strategy and culture change, some of which we have drawn on for this article. It’s good to dust off the books occasionally and think about how theory applies to your organisation…now.

There are many books written on strategy, different views on what it is and what it means for organisations. Lots of consultancy companies make their fortune baffling companies with complexity or helping to implement strategic transformations of varying types. This article looks briefly at strategy in its simplest form, it considers what influences the design and reality of strategy in your company.

Grant (2008) makes the link between a firm and the environment in which it operates, what happens inside a company and its ability to respond successfully to the market in which it operates. This highlights that strategy isn’t a separate entity, but something central in an organisation, impacted by the external market in which it operates and shaped by internal factors such as systems and skills of the workforce.

No two companies are the same. Those excelling have systems and a structure that supports their market leading strategy in every way. They are one step ahead of their competitors and that can be in many ways. Customer service, manufacturing quality, pay and rewards and organisation culture.

Two opposing views

Strategy formation has been a hotly debated topic for many years, with contrasting views and opinions on whether intervention can be successful.  

The design school view – is that strategy is about analysing a company’s external and internal environment and designing and implementing a strategy that fits the external and internal constraints and the firms’ capabilities. This about rational choice, design techniques and deliberate planning and management.

Process view of strategy – is more complex, it recognises that outcomes emerges from many influences such as leaders’ insights, trial and error and it acknowledges the impact of lower levels in the organisation on outcomes. Even with clear direction from leaders there are still factors out of control. This view sees strategy as emergent rather than planned.

We have all worked someplace where a new leader starts as a ‘new broom to sweep clean’ and thinks they can change everything instantly. Some strategic change interventions are successful, others only work to a certain extent as a company is a large ship to change course. Developing an effective strategy can take a long and sustained effort. While there will be organisations at both ends of the spectrum. Those who spend a vast amount micromanaging one strategic intervention after the other and those rudderless, evolving organically with little interference, the reality is that most companies are somewhere in the middle.

Johnson & Scholes (1988) research looks a little deeper at the impact of culture on organisations and explores the various softer elements that an organisations culture is made from.

Cultural Web, Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes 1992

This diagram illustrates that culture is made from various separate factors – which can all have an equal impact. The culture ‘paradigm’ means the dominant pattern, ‘the way things are done around here’.  When you consider these two concepts together, firstly you see how important people are and secondly you can see, why I said earlier that ‘companies are a large ship to change course’. There are lots of moving parts. You might be driving a positive strategic change in one area, but forces in another are restraining progress.

One thing to emphasise in both models is the importance of people. Your employees are central in strategic change, they are central in having a strategy that is effective. Culture is all around them, what they experience, how they participate. Employees are an important resource for any organisation and taking to the time to ensure you communicate and more importantly they understand what is happening and why it is important. The culture web concept acknowledges that stories, rituals and symbols are important to people and shouldn’t be discarded.

What rituals and symbols do new employees pick up in your organisations? What is your induction and welcome to the company ritual like? Do you support employees and train them to be as capable as possible and can they see you make an investment in them? what control systems do you have in place to accurately measure effort and performance? Are they fair and do they work? how do you acknowledge and reward high performance? Often there is a disconnect between what management thinks they are doing right and what employees are actually experiencing. What mechanisms do you have in place to pick up any discrepancies?

If this article has stimulated some ideas or identified gaps – contact us and we can connect you to market leading experts in training and strategic transformation.

Author : Love Your Employees

  • Gerry Johnson, Kevan Scholes. Exploring Corporate Strategy.  ISBN 10: 0132968495 / ISBN 13: 9780132968492 Published by Prentice-Hall, 1993
  • Robert M. Grant.  Contemporary Strategy Analysis: Text & Cases Paperback, Feb 2010 ISBN: 9780470747100

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