Strategy is a Living Organism But Culture Will Outlive Its Creators

by Eric Lowenstein

Strategy is a Living Organism But Culture Will Outlive Its CreatorsOrganizations invest a vast amount of time and energy creating defined strategies for innovation. This could be anything from new business models to new products to new ways of interacting with customers. Ultimately, what is often overlooked is that the culture of the organisation will determine whether the strategy is successfully implemented. In short, culture outlives the people that create the strategy. This is where the saying culture eats strategy for breakfast comes from.

Process and Culture

One of the biggest cultural shortfalls is due to insufficient processes in executing and implementing strategy. “Creating” strategy is seen as glamorous and everyone wants to get involved, but when it comes down to execution and implementation, everyone runs in the other direction. There is also a clear distinction between “planning” and “strategy”. Strategy is not a document, a spreadsheet or a power point; it is a living organism which shapes the future of your organisation. It is about charting the course between your desirable end and available needs. You should be thinking about your strategy every other day to learn from, adapt and adjust it to ensure it still aligns with your capabilities and the ever changing environment around you.

The successful implementation of strategy depends upon understanding the processes we have that create value for us, and more importantly how we transfer that value to the customer.

Process creates rules. It creates boundaries. It creates expectations and defined time frames… and these attributes are critical to innovation.

How can Leaders Champion Innovation?

A CEO cannot simply stand up and declare “ and now we are now going to become innovative”.  As a start, leaders need to actively identify and overcome the cultural obstacles.

Innovation requires a willingness to take risks. Conservative management may be reluctant to put resources on the line. New ideas may also not be pursued if there is a fear of failure; there will be a tendency to throw out ideas rather than jeopardise one’s career. Functional units can also create barriers where resources and finance are being competed for, creating a misalignment of common goals and lack of visibility making it difficult to collaborate, share ideas and prioritise on projects.

This is why it is so important for our leaders to champion innovation and embed a structure and process. A successful innovation cycle should allow for learning, iteration and adaptation. Try move through the cycle quickly and don’t over invest too early on – if you do, stakeholders may spend too much time and energy on something that is simply not viable – it may also increase political pressure instilling a fear of failure – remember you want to move through the cycle fast and frequently so you can keep learning, refining and adapting until you find that winning formula. Failure should be an accepted part of the process but make sure you debrief and re-examine all processes and assumptions before moving on. Think of these keywords “Fast, Frequent, Frugal, Failure andFeedback“.

In summary, if you were to do one thing differently tomorrow, start having conversations, raising awareness and uncovering those cultural barriers. Ultimately the question you need to answer is not “how do we get people to do what we want” but rather “how do we get people to want what we want.”

Please feel free to comment with your own insights and experiences on how you have identified and overcome your cultural barriers to innovation.

In my next post I will provide some guidance on running internal innovation brainstorming sessions.

Image Credit: ROallispossible.org.uk

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Eric LowensteinEric has over 10 years insurance experience in a variety of sectors including legal, underwriting and broking. Eric’s experience within the insurance industry has resulted in an in-depth understanding of account management, corporate risk management, claims management, policy drafting, pre-acquisition due diligence, post-acquisition risk and insurance review.

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