Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

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(This is the third post based on Primed to Perform by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor.)

In Primed to Perform, Doshi and McGregor present a way to measure Total Motivation (TOMO) for an individual or a team. Positive motivation means increasing a worker’s sense of ply, purpose and potential. Negative motivation includes factors of emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. Increase positive and decrease negative, they write, and motivation – and performance – go up.

But why?

Doshi and McGregor believe that motivated workers are more creative. They adapt more easily to a rapidly changing work environment, and in the 21st century, every work environment is rapidly changing. They use the military term VUCA to describe the uncertainty of a battle (or business.)

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

The higher the VUCA factor in your environment, the more adaptive and creative your workers must be. Adaptive performance, Doshi and McGregor write, will lead to greater success than Tactical performance, which measures how well a worker can execute a plan. 19th-century military strategist Helmuth Von Moltke is often quoted as having said “No plan survives the first contact with the enemy.” The best leaders understand that guiding principles are more effective than detailed plans.  (“Take the hill” rather than “Circle left and go up three miles, then move in from the north.”)

Culture beats strategy every time, because culture can adapt to circumstances.  Tactical performance measure the ability to stick to a plan. Adaptive performance measure the ability to diverge from a plan. The script may work in 80% of the call center’s calls, but the 20% of calls where it doesn’t may be the difference between failure and success.

Shawn Parr, CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy, writing for Fast Company, says: “Think about it like a nurturing habitat for success. Culture cannot be manufactured. It has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down. Ignoring the health of your culture is like letting aquarium water get dirty.” He cites organizations as diverse as online shoe retailer Zappos and the U.S. Marine Corps as examples of culture that lives in every single member. Members hold themselves accountable to a culture that is ingrained in them from their first day.

Adaptive cultures are more likely to succeed because they focus on big picture goals; workers are engaged enough to adapt to changing customer or market needs. Tactical cultures stick to the plan and measure goals that may not be the right ones, right now.

Tactical workers were probably the first historically to report (peevishly) “The operation was a success, but the patient died.”






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