Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

“Culture is like the fundamental laws of physics” guest post Olivier Riviere (“Culture eats Strategy” series Part 2)

Can you absorb a 25% hit to your program ROI? 15%?  OR, what if you could drive 100% of the projected ROI? 

All organizational changes (projects, programs, initiatives) are integrated into or, more often, rejected by the culture. Clearly this is an issue that is on the minds of leaders and change agents.  Over 600 insightful posts have been shared  on the topic “Culture eats Strategy (change) for breakfast” on LinkedIn in the Group “Organizational Change Practitioners” and more in the “Strategic Leadership Forum” since January (and the discussions are still running). 

The voices of the contributors are so powerful in their original form that I have asked a couple of participants if we could re-print their point of view here.  This is the second post in a series that will probably run to about 8 guest posts.  The first guest post is from Olivier Riviere – Olivier is an international Business Consultant and Interim Manager with over 25 years in-house experience based out of Germany:

In my humble opinion, whether Culture eats strategy or not depends on how well or bad the company is managed at the highest level, and not on CM planners or consultants.

Culture is like the fundamental laws of physics. It is there and won’t go away. But it is more complex and diverse than the laws of Physics. Even in a single organization, culture is like a daemon that changes shape constantly. But it is there and influences the course of things.

For the good and for the bad, Culture determines the strategic thinking capabilities of an entire organization. As long as the established culture enables the organization to find a relevant strategic response to a threat or an opportunity, everything is “fine”. Designing the strategy, moving to implementation, adapting the organization and driving change is relatively straightforward and represents the “usual” challenge of CM (surely not a piece of cake but still a “business of management as usual”) . The problem gets MUCH bigger when culture comes in the way and – even at the stage of design only – prevents the organization from defining an adequate strategy (typical example: SAP unable to tackle attacks from ORACLE). In that case, the key role of the leadership team is; first to drive the strategic thinking process in a way that works around collective mental limitations, and second, to drive the cultural (and organizational) change that will enable the implementation. This is no minor undertaking and it takes a long while (SAP’s last CEO failed rapidly). You are talking of changing behaviours, beliefs, symbols, rituals and the impact of all these on your management system and social interaction within the company. Big deal! If you don’t do it, the system will simply go back close to it is initial state and your strategy will fail miserably.

A lack of a deep understanding of culture and identity, and the subsequent incapacity to manage them are at the origin of many, many failed strategies, including most mergers and acquisitions. It is strange and sad that so few authors and consultants talk and write about this (if I am wrong, please tell me).

Now “managing culture & identity” does not mean that you can treat them like a production line (Six Sigma? No thank you!). Managing Identity is more like driving a super tanker and, sometime, riding on a storm. But it is a top manager’s job. Great leaders have the instinct and/or the analytical skills to manage culture and identity. But they are rare (and not necessarily famous and recognized for their incredible skills). The others need to be lucky….

Olivier is on LinkedIn here  and you can check out his blog here.

Most posts coming on this topic – subscribe above left so you don’t miss any.

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