How to make strategy uneatable for culture in agile transformations

3 mins read

You might remember the old adage "culture eats strategy for breakfast". Culture has the power to undermine a new direction. It describes how things are done in an organization. Culture builds up over a long time and sticks with the organization. It manifests in behaviors, values, and beliefs.

Can you successfully implement a new strategy without taking culture into account? Yes, if the strategy resonates well with the existing culture. Unfortunately, transforming a traditional line organization into an agile organization is a bit more comprehensive.

You can try out standard approaches to implementing strategies and influencing the culture, such as:

  • show the connection between the purpose and values and the agile strategy and the urgency for change,
  • involving middle management and other key players in the strategy process and its implementation,
  •  recognize some critical behaviors and train them to leaders and employees to arouse positive emotions.

Are these measures sufficient if you see that the organization needs to become more agile? In a traditional organization with hierarchical lines, the three points do not go down to the core beliefs. That means there is probably no change.

Make the invitation to everyone

There is another way: Make the invitation to everyone for upskilling a core part of the strategy. Show that the organization needs new skills. Invite the organization explicitly to a comprehensive learning and development experience. Give them reasons for that move: Because you believe in your people. Mention examples of the past, where learning led to turnarounds and successes. And that is what you want to see more of and you are part of the change journey.

Skills needed for agile organizations

But what skills are needed for agile organizations? Skills that boost mindfulness, willpower, psychological empowerment, communication, and feedback. Skills that the balance the need for safety and belonging with the need for growth. Skills that help to recognize weak signals and foster creativity and innovation. Skills that help to adjust the leadership style and structure according to the task at hand. Skills that lead to better and faster decisions by overcoming biases and providing transparency. Skills that help to accept full responsibility for the own role in the team. Skills that spur curiosity in conflicts to create a new quality for solving them.  

I could add to the list. And as you can see, these are very soft skills. The skills help the employees to grow as a person and to coordinate their work to the common purpose. With these skills, employees can drive careers and significantly improve employability. The main change takes place in the employees, not in external artifacts and structures.

I believe, making an invitation for upskilling part of the strategy is key to win over the hearts of employees. It will set the tone towards a learning organization and will bring the customer back into focus. At the same time, it communicates an aspiration and expectation. An authentic invitation will be noticed by employees as a signal of appreciation. Some employees will be happy to be pioneers. Others follow. This way strategy becomes uneatable for culture.

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