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  • Writer's pictureLauren Houghton

Mind the Culture Gap: From Strategy to Execution

Vision means nothing without execution. There is no “secret sauce” that needs exclusive design and delivery and proprietary ownership by external management consultants. Of course, finding a trusted partner able to bring their expertise, research and advise to your business context adds immense value.

Successful bridging the gap between strategy and execution, requires leadership that both provides a meaningful direction, with sense of purpose, and results in engagement of both middle managers and the rest of the organisation.

The pace of scientific and technological change is happening faster than our ability to adapt.

Disruption is driving the need for a more effective practice of leadership. Rapid technological change and innovation, product commoditization and digitization, mobile app disruption, the demand for transparency and the need for higher employee engagement – these are just some of the demands placed on those leading change at all levels in the organisation.

Leadership in this “new normal”, means inspiring and motivating people to change direction, building new strategies, transforming business operating models, and adopting new ways of customer engagement and collaboration.

In this unprecedented time of change, the challenge facing organisations is how to:

• Lead with shared purpose, that focuses on maintaining stability and driving change and innovation

• Engage and mobilise the “status quo” rather than resist and hold back

• Make sense of an environment, that is constantly volatile, unpredictable, uncertain and more complex than ever

Leading transformation of your business, from your game plan, is an intentional intervention in the “system, creating a disequilibrium, the asks people deal with uncertainty, expect losses, experience potential failures, and confront inconvenient truths. (Ronald Heifetz)

In effect, leaders become the intentional, Corporate Disruptors” that shape a culture, capability and mindset, that transforms with agility and can manage change sustainably.

Transform your business in the digital age

We need to change our “culture”. Mention this, eye’s roll. heads nod, and we so often here similar responses: it takes too long, it’s too hard, we tried, it does not work and more.

Culture has the “amorphous” quality about it – “the organisation’s shared values and beliefs, defining appropriate and inappropriate behaviours the way we do things around here.”

Why do most attempts at culture change and transformation fail? We seem to have the best competitive strategy and yet that huge gap and divide, becomes “culture” and whether we have or can shift and make things stick.

A McKinsey survey found that only one in three organisational change efforts succeeds. Culture change efforts have even lower levels of success. A great article by Rich Lyons , Forbes Contributor, listed 3 conditions for success:

• Leaders with commitment – change is enduring, rather than permanent and so constantly revitalising itself as market conditions change too. People resist change, so make it stick to course, even when the originator CEO leaves and a new CEO comes in.

• Line of Sight to Performance – people need to see the bigger purpose, meaning and tangible impact of the change, measured in terms of goals

• Engagement leads to action, so creating an energy and drive based on “differentiation” to the market

What has been described above are the “levers” for shifting the “wheels of culture” – structures, systems, job design and skills. Of these, the more impactful of all, is “Skills”as a key driver or shaper of “culture”, which encompasses leadership, communication and the exercise of authority.

A leader must also demonstrate the ability to alternate between a broad range of behaviors and adapt their approach to the changing demands the environment and situation. This ambidexterous leader, is the crucial bridge between strategy and execution – as such, the leader is fully focused on building capabilities within and across the organisation, once meaningful direction and purpose is established.

How are you handling your cycle through market changes, how are you responding to and preparing for disruption – how effectively are you bringing together strategy and capability?

Great leadership drives culture change, and leading culture change and bridging the gap between strategy and execution, can create an organisation that constantly shapes and reinvigorates, by changing gears to deliver. Below are the five drivers for successfully strategy execution:

Strategic Goals

• Meaningful direction and purpose

• Values are differentiated and visible day to day

• Customer is clearly identified as well as the level of experience

• Specific measurable goals defined for everyone

Organisation Structures

• Open, meaningful communication and decision-making processes

• Flatter structures increases volume of communication and influence

• Mechanisms are in place for giving and receiving feedback – without defending

• Coordination between different business units clear

Job Designs

• Individual and teams enjoy their work and understand individual impact

• Know what is needed and how to get it done

• Have control over the “how” and results and can make changes anytime to maximise impact

• Up to speed on their progress and learning how they are progressing

Process and Systems

• Recognition that good ideas come from difference in thought – beyond diversity

• Achievable targets and effort to ensure best performance vs. don’t make mistakes

• Mutually agreed goals

• Achievement celebrate and communication

• Learning and development enable by “coaching” as a management practice


• Open and planned omni channels, defining the why and how to everyone

• People included in decision and discussion about customer and organisations and potential impacts


• Protect and surface the leadership voices from below

• Open sharing information

• Energy and focus on what we do and how we do it through our interaction with one another and people

Traditional change management has not progressed as much as we would expect, in delivering the consistent and deep change success. Change begins with a shift in the mental maps or mindsets of people, who are the organisation. And this requires an ambidexterous leader, who can shift gears between strategy engagement and mobilising people for execution -

What is the shift of focus needed, for Leading through this ear of Disruption? What are potential solutions and approaches, for strategic and disruptive change? What are your steps to leading change that builds adaptive capacity across your entire business? And how can you get this

By framing your change initiative within a strategic framework and journey, as above, a leader is able to help their organisation navigate through the many cycles of their business journey.

Every approach to building agile cultures through leadership, needs to create strategic growth in your business, while ‘operationalising’ your organisation for continuous business transformation and innovation, in the fast-changing digital age.

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