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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

How much impact does an organizational culture….existing ways of doing business or corporate history have on an ability to affect or implement change? I would argue that it is critical and that executing to any strategy or vision as a leader requires you to understand who the key supporters and detractors will be and ensuring that THEY feel like they understand it and OWN IT. It doesn’t matter where else the strategy has worked, how much sense it appears to make or how badly the company needs it to be successful. Culture will eat your strategy for breakfast if you do not work to understand it, embrace it, leverage it and manage within it.

I had a boss many years ago who really helped to simplify this for me. For him…everything revolved around EPRC. As you approach any situation… meeting… discussion… decision with others you first need to understand where they stand on the EPRC scale. He felt that everyone fit into one of two buckets:

1)     Emotional/Political (EP)

2)     Rational/Commercial (RC)

His theory was that until you could appreciate if the issue or topic was Emotional/Political or Rational/Commercial for the person/group you were approaching then you could not truly affect change. His argument was that if you approached a situation with data…rational arguments…or commercial common sense when the person/group was emotionally or politically charged about it then they would shut down and not embrace the information you were giving them. The converse is also true…that if you approach a situation with an emotional connection or all the reasons politically that it makes sense to a person/group that is looking for numbers…objective research… qualitative & quantitative information to support the decision they too will dismiss the strategy before you get out of the gate.

This concept of EPRC was first introduced to me in preparing for important meetings…and I saw it work in very simple…yet effective ways. The coaching was…do YOU know where everyone in the room stands on the agenda topics you are about to present? Do you need to address any EPRC items up front....head on...or even prior to the meeting to ensure you get the outcome you are looking for? This meant a lot of extra preparation but I have never regretted doing it and it has prevented a lot of difficult...unproductive meetings over the years. 

I can also think of many situations or people that have neglected to spend time thinking about stakeholders and the organizational culture prior to running with a new initiative because they felt they a mandate from the TOP to simply “make the change”.  These were people who were incredibly smart, super leaders, articulate, experienced, and yet culture ate the strategy for breakfast. They had the vision to transform the team, they had “buy in” from the leadership team and they had the intestinal fortitude to execute to the plan. These people shared with leadership how tough the transition was going to be and they did not sugar coat the severity or dissatisfaction that the teams would feel about the changes. I also believe that they felt that the changes were critical to the long term success of the company – no different than having to re-break a bone that has not properly set. It’s painful and the recovery time is long, but in the end – you are better for it. Where these leaders really struggled was that they did not appear to have anyone in the “culture” who believed in the vision or helped them navigate the “underground”. While they thought they had plenty of support from the CEO and other executive leaders, when the going got tough and the culture pushed back the story ended with the change leader’s departure and things remaining status quo.

So as leaders what can WE do?

1)     Recognize that EPRC is a part of our everyday life and YOU need to adjust or be aware of it as you approach various individuals and teams

2)     Remember…that although YOU have been thinking about this for a long time and you are getting pressure from above to move faster…others are hearing this for the first time and need to internalize it (just like you did)

3)     YOU need to ask a lot of questions of others all the way along to understand how you can help them embrace and feel like they own the change as much as YOU do. Address their fear…uncertainty and doubt whether it be EP or RC related.

Once key individuals understand and own it….things will progress more effectively and productively. You will actually have a shot at making the changes and having them last!

Leadership questions of the week for YOU: “What’s your best “culture eats strategy for breakfast” story?” “What is your best advice or approach for how a leader can navigate or be successful knowing that culture can kill you before you can change it?” “How important is understanding where others fit into EPRC?” “Can you think of 3 things you would do differently utilizing EPRC starting tomorrow?” “How can we as leaders leverage “the underground” of a company while maintaining balance in relationships and not getting too caught up in it?” 

Thanks for reading and remember....YOU make a difference!

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