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Latest Bayer-Monsanto Trial Reminds Us that Culture and Strategy Must Stay in Sync

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Latest Bayer-Monsanto Trial Reminds Us that Culture and Strategy Must Stay in Sync

What does culture have to do with the latest challenges at Bayer and Monsanto?

Since culture goes hand in hand with strategy, quite a lot.

But this fact — that strategy and culture are interrelated — has gotten lost in the current zeitgeist where culture is viewed as the last piece an organization puts in place, something you can just create or layer on.  An afterthought of sorts to innovation, product development, sales, marketing, teamwork, and strategy.

From the minute an organization comes to be, if not sooner, culture is there. It’s the basis on which founders and leaders express their purpose, their vision, and mission. It shapes the way decisions are made about what to produce and sell, to whom, and how.  Workplace habits and standards, behavioral consistency — even rituals and language — all flow from culture, not vice versa.

In other words, culture is a starting point for all of these things and more, beginning above all with an organization’s strategic agenda. Culture defines the who and the why behind strategy.

As companies grow and evolve, they tend to lose sight of the fact that culture and strategy go hand in hand, and forget that culture was initially embedded in everything they did. Culture gets reduced to a statement hanging on a poster in the office kitchen, conference room or front lobby. The connection between culture, strategy, decision-making, and behavior gets lost. The two are no longer in sync. That puts the company’s strategic agenda and intentions at risk.

This might seem disappointing yet harmless. Not so. Because a disconnect between culture and strategy and everything that flows from them can result in exactly the sort of conflicts and miscues we’re seeing with a range of organizations, large and small. Corporate strategy gets muddled and culture gets confused. The organization gets shackled in decision making, risk management and problem-solving. This has been a challenge with Bayer and Monsanto, as well as for GE, P&G, Boeing, a host of big retail companies, and across the healthcare sector.

As explained in my new book Strategic Teams and Development: The FieldBook for People Making Strategy Happen, culture should inform and help determine every decision leaders take and every action taken throughout the organization at every level, across borders, from executive group and staff directives to day-to-day choices and behavior within teams.

How can you make sure culture and strategy continue working hand in hand, and that culture doesn’t devolve into a string of empty buzzwords staring up from a culture deck that teams and individuals glance at without following through on?

The following four questions will help you assess whether and how your organization’s everyday thought and behavior is aligning with its culture — and make sure you’re not heading down the slippery slope of letting actions and decisions drift away from their cultural drivers:

1. Does the decision we are about to make reflect our values and culture around caring for our customers and their needs in a way that treats them as the assets that they are?

2. Will this decision contribute to our profit and sustenance in a way that remains true to our culture and to the purpose, vision and mission it has led us to shape?

3. Does this decision help us maintain our competitive advantage and differentiate us meaningfully in a way that aligns with our culture and values?

4. Is this decision in line with the ethics and values of service and integrity our culture embodies and is this meaningful stewardship for our full range of stakeholders?

To be a good corporate steward you have to have your eyes wide open for the needs of all types of stakeholders: customers, employees, investors, partners, and suppliers.

These questions intersect with one another in multiple places, forming a complex lattice. Decisions that impact competitive advantage or corporate stewardship will have implications for profit and sustenance. All choices will ultimately impact customers and the way your business meets their needs. There may be conflicts between one category and another, too.

Most companies check in on how they’re doing with culture every year or two at most. But given culture’s crucial foundational importance to strategy and all that flows and is expressed from it, much more attention is needed.

These four questions should be asked regularly and rigorously at all levels of operations and decision-making. They should form the basis for decision-making protocols and policies about everything from risk management and safety standards to financial management and personnel matters.

And if the answer to any of them is “no” it’s time to stop and rethink before taking action.

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Daniel Wolf is President and Co-founder of Dewar Sloan, a consulting group focused on  strategy direction, integration and execution. For more than 25 years Dewar Sloan has served hundreds of corporate, healthcare, technology and nonprofit organizations. Author of Strategic Teams and Development: The FieldBook for People Making Strategy Happen and Prepared and Resolved: The Strategic Agenda for Growth, Performance and Change, Dan has held management and governance roles at Fortune 500 companies, SME ventures and in private equity ventures. He lives in Traverse City, Michigan.

employee

When Money Is Not Enough; How To Grow Productive, Loyal Employees

When Delta Air Lines announced plans to pay out a record $1.6 billion in profit sharing to its 90,000 employees – the equivalent of about two months pay for each of them – workers across America likely turned envious.

If only their employers would do the same.

Of course, not all companies can afford such lavish bonuses, but there are other things CEOs can do to boost employee morale and, at the same time, reduce the odds that their best workers go looking elsewhere for employment, says Troy Nix (www.troynix.com), a motivational speaker, businessman and author of Eternal Impact: Inspire Greatness in Yourself and Others.

“Money is just one thing that motivates employees, and it’s not always the primary motivator,” says Nix, founder and CEO of First Resource Inc., an association management company specializing in manufacturing networks.

“Other factors – many of them having to do with working conditions or managers – are more likely to influence whether someone stays with a company or heads out the door.”

A Randstad US study on why workers part ways with employers reported that some of the reasons most often cited include: They dislike their direct supervisors; they feel their companies view profits or revenue as more important than how people are treated; there aren’t enough growth opportunities for them; their companies fail to make the best use of their skills and abilities; the work culture is toxic; or their departments are understaffed.

Nix points out that bonuses or pay raises, while desirable, wouldn’t solve any of those core problems that lead to employee turnover.

“The secret to maintaining and growing a quality workforce lies in having a people-centric culture,” Nix says. “Certainly, there is no one silver bullet that will solve a company’s workforce dilemma, but there are ways businesses can create a worker-friendly atmosphere that will result in happier, more productive employees who want to stay with them.”

He says some solutions that will keep employees satisfied and even enthusiastic about their work include:

Help them understand the “why” of what they do. “The majority of employees usually know what they do, and most of them certainly understand how they do it,” Nix says. “But few understand why they do it. If you want to improve employee engagement, I encourage you to answer the question ‘why’ before you do anything else; and don’t just do it once, do it regularly. Habitually communicating to employees the reason your business exists will directly elevate the commitment of your people to the ‘why’ of your existence.”

Give them purpose. ”More than ever, people want to be part of something that has purpose and meaning,” Nix says. “For young people especially, going to work needs to be about more than just making money. Leaders should be aware of these aspirations and build a company culture that enables employees to find purpose in what they do. Imagine the success a business could have if the employees looked forward to coming to work on Monday with as much joy as they look forward to their weekends.”

Provide support for increasing their knowledge and productivity. Great leaders understand that the majority of employees perform their job functions without coming close to their full capacity, Nix says. Yet, among the top reasons employees leave is they see no room for career growth where they are, or they don’t feel their companies make the best use of their capabilities. “It’s essential for managers to find ways to tap into their employees’ skills,” he says, “because doing so is going to be good for the employee and good for the company.”

“Winning the loyalty of your employees translates into individuals who are dedicated to making the company better,” Nix says. “They will take the extra step to ensure the needs of the customer are met, and they will literally think about the company on their off time because it is that important to them.”

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Troy Nix (www.troynix.com), author of Eternal Impact: Inspire Greatness in Yourself and Others, is the founder, president, and CEO of First Resource, Inc., an innovative association management company for America’s manufacturers. Nix, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, served in the armed forces for a decade before moving into the business world.