CULTURE, STRATEGY AND HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
This past April, Harvard Business Review published “Culture is Not the Culprit” as its cover story. The article was intended, according to its editors, “to encourage business leaders to think about culture with the same rigor and concreteness that they apply to business processes and goals.” I love that rigor — — we apply it every day at THRUUE.
The article, based on the accounts of four CEOs, argues that culture change comes along only after leaders get their big ideas right and bring their primary strategies to life. According to the introduction, “When leaders [use] tools such as decision rights, performance measurement, and reward systems to address their particular business challenges, organizational culture [evolves] in interesting ways as a result, reinforcing the new direction.” These three focus areas are often called the “three legs of the stool.”
In essence, this article presents yet another way of looking at the intersection of strategy and culture. It is in this intersection that THRUUE believes value is gained or destroyed. It is on this intersection that we believe CEOs need to focus and create balance. And it’s in this intersection that the big ideas are either made real or consumed by an ingrained behavioral inertia that destroys inspiration and creativity.
The HBR article implies that culture is the lagging rather than leading indicator of organizational success. Culture lives in the consciousness of employees and is formed by the values and behaviors that they see or they want brought to life by their leadership. Culture is “the way things are done around here.” As such, it cannot be so easily divorced from the strategic levers CEOs pull to drive change. It’s a “yes, and” not an “either, or.”
If THRUUE were to rewrite the introduction to the HBR article, we would say, “Culture can’t fix everything; but leaders can and must measure it while also focusing on the three legs of the stool.” It’s the intersection of strategy and culture that is the nucleus of the cell.
Many years ago, I applied for an MBA at Harvard Business School. They turned me down. And months later, William E. Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester said, “Yes, please come.” It was at the Simon School that I first learned the “three legs of the stool,” which has become my mantra and which manages to find its way into nearly every conversation I have with leaders about strategy and culture. Finding this timeless organizational design framework invoked by an HBR article was awesome — — almost as awesome as a message from HBR editors “letting me in” seventeen years later.
I am genuinely honored to have THRUUE’S name featured in HBR this month — — a mere four years after we became a company. Below, our point of view on “Culture is Not the Culprit” sums up much of what we believe and try to live out each day with our clients: