Healthbizinsight

January Issue 2018

STRATEGY

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Putting Culture before Strategy

Whereas companies spend millions on crafting strategy, they do not see the rationale of investing on culture

By: Vivek Shukla

Peter Drucker's adage – 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast' has deep roots in the real world. Culture can scuttle any strategy at will. A 300-page, brilliantly-crafted strategic plan will never find its feet if introduced in a culture that doesn't support it. On the contrary, an ordinary plan can be strategic masterpiece if supported by a great culture.
Interestingly, for every 10 strategy pundits, you hardly find one expert leader on organisational culture. Whereas companies spend millions on crafting strategy, they do not see the rationale of investing on culture. It is strange why this happens even when we see ample evidence of culture eating strategy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks every day!

Columbia Asia Radiology Group

Culture is not underrated, it is blatantly ignored in spite of knowing its importance. I guess the main reason why culture takes a back seat is, because people are not comfortable dealing with other human beings

Culture is blatantly ignored

My take - Culture is not underrated, it is blatantly ignored in spite of knowing its importance.
I guess the main reason why culture takes a back seat is, because people are not comfortable dealing with other human beings. Perhaps, it is easier to hide behind the Excel Sheets and Power Points and discuss numbers rather than talk about values, vision, emotions and conflicts. Or maybe, we just avoid the responsibility of the task with a hope that someone else will do it someday. Sometimes we wish that the skeletons in the cupboard will sort themselves out or better still, will disappear on their own.
Whereas the other business indicators are more palpable, culture is more qualitative in nature. Therefore, it is left lurching and is devoid of the attention that it deserves. If culture was something tangible and into the face, may be the executives would give it more attention. And yes, the occasional employee satisfaction surveys that some of you are thinking about right now, do not go too far in changing the organisational culture.
Culture gobbles more growth prospects than bad decisions or lack of insight. Hence, here is a valuable advice - Before making next year's strategy and projections, take an objective and dispassionate look at the internal environment. If people are not united for a cause and are not backing each other up, I urge to please shelve the strategic planning and projections exercise and deal with the people element first. Here are some of the things that can help you start:
• Take a hard look at attrition rates, why those people left
• Find out how many existing employees have brought in their friends and ex colleagues to the company
• Figure out if there are individual people who wield power beyond what their roles allow them
• Are there any isolated islands or groups of people in the company?
• Look closely at how many people you can find in the organisation who are an embodiment of the vision and values
• Look at what goes on in the internal meetings and reviews. Watch the body language as well as the verbal language and main topics of discussion
• What are the values and beliefs of the organisation when it comes to people and their growth?
• Are people open to suggestions and ideas? How many people are willing to openly ask questions and give suggestions to the management?
• What's the overall energy level? Do people display a positive body language and are self-expressed, or is it more about saving themselves from any possible backlash
• What kind of projects and activities do people spend most of their time on?
This list can be endless. The point is short and crisp – Get the culture right if you want the strategy to succeed. That is the only way it can get done in the long run.
I really wish to see a day when strategy will not be eaten and culture will find an alternative means to quench its hunger.


About the author

Vivek Shukla works closely with top healthcare leaders to create strategic growth vectors for their healthcare organisations. Having been on both sides of the table, over the last 20 years, he has a deep insight into what will make a lasting impact in a growth or a turnaround story of a client. He has also written over 100 published articles. He currently works as a Director - Healthcare & Life Sciences at Frost & Sullivan, MENA & South Asia, and helps in Performance Improvement of leading healthcare players. He is also the Managing Partner for Surge Management Consulting.