The marrying of strategy and a good culture is a recipe for a successful organization, says Professor Dr Justin Robinson, Head of the Department of Economics at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus.
However, he said that organizational leaders who do not take this approach are doomed to fail. Robinson put forward this argument as he addressed the monthly Small Business Association (SBA) members’ information webinar on Tuesday, under the theme The Impact of Leadership on the Organisation.
“Leaders who don’t understand their current organizational culture and how it fits with their strategic direction are doom to failure,” he said.
“Culture aligned with strategy can release a lot of energy that can drive organisational success.
Even if a charismatic dominant leader is able to drive a strategy through if that strategy does not become aligned to the culture of the organisation then that success is short-lived. As that leader moves on that strategic approach does not become a part of the DNA and the organization does not have the culture to sustain it,” said Robinson.
He said according to research, there were two broad spectrums when it came to culture – one that is highly independent and the other that is highly interdependent.
“Independent cultures tend to favour autonomy of persons, individual action and competition.
Interdependent cultures tend to favour integration – there is a focus on managing relationships and coordinating group efforts.
People in such cultures tend to collaborate and see organisation success through the lens of the group, ‘we succeeded’. But in an independent culture it is ‘I succeeded’,” he said.
Robinson, the Executive Director of the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management, said strategy and culture are among the main tools for leaders as they try to maintain an organisation’s viability and effectiveness.
He argued that while leaders in organisations of almost all sizes and types now recognised the critical role of strategy, culture was less understood among leaders, according to research.
“Culture by its very nature tends to endure beyond the tenure of a leader. So after a leader has moved on he or she often leaves a culture that remains in the organisation and impacts performance for a time to come,” he said.
“The culture is who we are. It is almost that indefinable thing, a tacit social order or an organisation; what is accepted and not accepted within the organisation; how we do things around here.
The cultural norm defines what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted or rejected within a group. When this is properly aligned with the strategy it can release a tremendous amount of energy towards a shared purpose and force an organisation’s capacity to try,” he explained.
He added: “Strategy offers a formal logic for the company’s goals, and orients people around it, whereas culture expresses the goals of the company through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms”.
Robinson argued that leaders and organizations often invest a lot of time and effort in their strategic planning, but their plans often go “off the rails” because they don’t understand the “power and dynamics” of culture.
“So part of the reason I highlight the importance of culture is that there is a lot of evidence out there that culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Robinson, who pointed out that culture was a shared experience while the strategic plan was not always shared across the organisation.
He said a results-oriented and achievement-driven culture style often led to improved execution, capacity building and goal achievement, but could lead to communication and collaboration breakdowns and higher levels of stress and anxiety.
On the other hand, Robinson posited that a more caring, warm, sincere and relational style came with the advantage of improved teamwork, engagement, communication, trust and sense of belonging.
However, he said an overemphasis on consensus building may then reduce exploration of options, stifle competitiveness and slow decision-making.
He noted that leadership style changes according to the situation and in response to the individuals being managed, including their competency and motivation.
“Different leadership behaviours lead to what we call different leadership styles – is the leader autocratic, persuasive, consultative, and democratic,” he said.
“There is a lot of conversation now about transformational leadership where the role of the leader is to inspire individuals, develop trust and encourage creativity and personal growth.
So the leader really wants to build that individual to develop a sense of purpose to benefit the organisation beyond themselves,” he said.
He said in a situation where there was low competence, low commitment or unwillingness and insecurity “then you really want something more akin to an authoritarian directive style”.
On the other extreme where there is high competition among workers, high levels of commitment and willingness and motivation then he suggested a leadership role of delegation and observation.
“So the idea then is that the leadership style should adjust to fit the situation,” said Robinson. (MM)