Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch I have heard this many times. I have experienced it as well. But I want to spend some time discussing this idea and maybe foster the idea that Culture and Strategy do not need to be mutually exclusive.
So what are these two terms? Culture is the touchy feely stuff. It is not visible to the naked eye but creates the glue that holds an organization together or the sandpaper that wears it down. Strategy is committed to writing more often than not. It comprises the mission, vision and goals of an organization.
Both are critically important to the success of your business and I wanted to share some thoughts that might resonate not only to owners or management but also the rank and file or stakeholders in the success from top to bottom.
Get on Board or Get Out of the Way!
I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people in my career. I teach professional development topics in the insurance industry and have been a sales person, business owner and consultant. I often hear business owners frustrated as well as rank and file because of the cultural restraints in a business.
I have heard:
- “I would love to try that but my staff would never go for it” Really? Really!? It is your business, YOURS! If the business fails they leave but you lose.
- “My Clients would never go for that” Maybe your clients are not the right clients. Recently a carrier I am actually insured by and have represented for 30 years changed their platform for new business. It required clients to have email and everything was digital. I listened to the CEO get lambasted at about a dozen presentations. The agents in attendance needed to have their blood pressure checked at the door. But the CEO stood his ground. He acknowledged that it would cost them some opportunities. But the numbers do not lie, the “I don’t do Tech” demographic is a smaller and smaller demographic. So he said he was biting the bullet and making a move that was forward thinking.
- “I’m too old for this stuff” Many people are stuck on the idea of this has always worked for me and I will not change. That is your prerogative but if your plan is to perpetuate, have you hamstrung the next generation? Have you diminished the value of your asset? Get on or Get out!
- “My boss/company will never do that” or “They will not listen to anyone” If you are a stakeholder and really feel this way, leave. Sounds harsh because you have bills to pay but life is already tough enough without having to be miserable. Plus if you do not like your employer’s culture you are stealing. Probably you are not a strong ambassador of the business's message and it is costing everyone including co-workers.
So what is really holding your business back from a digital transformation and what do you need to do about it?
Ya gotta pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues
Back in the end of this century's last decade our business like so many others was facing challenges like we never have. We were losing business to competition and the economy. We knew we had to change and it was critical to our sustainability.
We jumped head first into changing our agency and focused on new ways to communicate with clients and prospects. We decided Inbound Insurance Marketing and Inbound Insurance Sales was the future of our agency and the industry.
Well it went over as you might expect, like the proverbial lead balloon.
What did we run into from our staff? RESISTANCE. Why? There were a number of reasons:
- It was seen as more work
- They were uneasy with the change
- They had not bought into the need to change
- They were not involved in the change
Some were natural, some were not going to be tolerated but most required our working through to do away with the unease and establish their buy-in. So we did a few things to turn this around:
- Involved them – We formed task forces to get their input and help direct our future. That being said, it is important upfront to be open, accepting and flexible. But it is also important to let them know from the get go that their input is valued, and will be considered but the ownership/management will establish the game plan.
- Let them know what was going on – I talked to a VP of Sales for an investing carrier with Trusted Choice. He said they were given recordings of calls to agencies that consumers found through the Trusted Choice Portal. He said one of the first calls he listened to floored him. The agency rep asked how they found the agency. The prospect said Trusted Choice. The rep replied that they did not have Trusted Choice, than muffled the phone but still could be hear asking co-workers if anyone had heard of Trusted Choice. We had a similar issue when our marketing staff asked what happens after they generate a lead. We also found our staff was not aware of our marketing efforts. They were getting calls and were clueless as to the topic the prospect called about from our blog. So we established lines of communication and also used a tool called Onstrategy. It was a comprehensive tool that had the agency goals laid out and it trickled down to each desk on what their contribution was and how it fed the agency's plan as a whole.
- Held them Accountable – Once we had this tool in operation it was easy to see where there were issues and where there was success. They could no longer hide because the goal was not just between them and their manager, it was there for everyone. We had one area that I will share that we had from an accountability stand point. We asked our staff to support our social media initiative. If we share something of value we wanted them to do the same. We had a few employees that drew the line. Facebook is their personal tool and not work related. We did their review and credited them for their accomplishments, told them they met certain goals and objectives, but this was an area they missed and it was going to be reflected in their new compensation. It was a priority for us and while we respected their position they did not meet our objective. I shared this in one of my classes and could see that it was not well received by everyone. A person raised their hand and while she said she thought I had knowledge in the subject she would never work for me, I looked at her and said I agreed she never would. Culture. You need to make it happen.
There needs to be Collusion
Sorry I had to interject some politics in this blog. But really Culture and Strategy should not be a Collision it should be Collusion! Having a health supportive culture will make the ability to have a smooth adoption of the mission, vision and values that are the strategies of your firm.
You need both the right culture and the sound strategies. A company running only on culture will rarely enjoy sustainable success. All the relaxation pods, innovation labs and ping pong tables in the world will not save a company without a strong strategy.
Strategy for your Strategy
Things to look for in your workplace
- Do you trust each other? – Sometimes companies with too much Rah Rah culture can take on the appearance of a six year old soccer team. If you can imagine one of these it often revolves around all the team rushing to the ball. They do not understand the overall strategy and their assignment. The goal is to move the ball towards the goal and avoid it coming into your side of the field.
- Dissent is not a dirty word. – Many companies stifle open dialogue. This is not a win lose place to be. If two members of the team are not in agreement keep in mind that both have the interest of the firm in their position. Dissent should be encouraged, respected but encouraged.
- Who is taking care of baby? – When you took your baby to day care for your first day back to work you wonder in the front of your mind, is the caregiver going to take care of baby like you would. It is all about the hand-off. Marketing has to be comfortable with sales and sales once they close the deal have to trust baby with service. If you don’t have the hand-off handled, the culture will suffer and fingers will be pointed.
- What business are you in and
- For the business you are in…what is your value proposition to take to market?
You must have both a strong strategy and a strong culture. Without one the adoption process falls flat.
Final thoughts to leave you with
If you are an owner – You have to be the main driver of the strategy and the culture. Invite engagement even dissent but remember you are the captain and if the ship goes down they get the life boat.
If you are not the owner – Make sure the values you have match the ones of your firm. You have to share the passion. If not two things will happen. One is you will not serve the firm or its clients adequately. You are not where you belong and are not acting in an ethical way.
Life is too short to do what you don’t love.
How well has your business been able to adopt digital efforts? Do you have a culture accepting of digital and future growth?
If you have any questions on how we dealt with some of the cultural shifts in our agency then don't hesitate to ask. You leave a comment below or send me an email directly firstname.lastname@example.org.