Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time

Nolifer Merchant is a corporate advisor, CEO of Rubicon Consulting and speaker on innovation methods. She is also the author of a book entitled The New How.

In a recent post on the HBR Blog, Nolifer discusses how culture — that invisible, undefinable, unmeasurable glue that holds your organization together — has more influence over your success or failure than any strategic initiative you might undertake. You should read the whole post.

Meanwhile, here’s the punch line:

“After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner.”

Are you prepared to craft your culture with purpose and intention?

Your success, perhaps even your survival, hangs in the balance.

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2 Responses to Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time

  1. Thanks Jesse for posting this,

    I will definitely take a stand on this statement in my work :) Miss Merchant is absolutely right, when she says that “culture” has a huge influence on the success of strategies. It´s just like she said: if a strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. If you think of strategy in the field of social work: if a social worker tries to convince a client by using a special strategy during a conversation, this can only work if the client wants to cooperate. And clients only cooperate if they believe that the change of a certain behavior or the change of a certain way of thinking and acting will be useful for coping with their individual problems. This has a lot to do with experiences people have made. If somebody does not believe that a change of a certain way of acting will lead to success – why should there be a change in a “running system”? But how often is it that people are afraid of changing a strategy because they don´t really understand the new concept somebody came up with? I mean this is why in social work we speak of win-win situations… the client has to get the feeling that he or she can make a profit by chanching a certain way of thinking or acting. And in my opinion it´s the same with new strategies – if people are openminded and see that a certain strategy has the potential to be successful – why should they refuse to give it a try – (just think of complexity reduction – just to mention a certain benefit a change of strategy could bring). Thanks for reading ;-)

  2. Surely a successfull strategy ensures the fit between an organisations internal environment, of which culture is of course a paramount element, with that of it’s ever changing external marketplace. simply dont understand the con. Strategy should certainly not be devised over a 20 yr period, as stated, but intead should be a constant work in progress that everyone within the company (down to the grass root employees) is fully aware of, in agreement of and importantly commited to it’s success,

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