Mastering Strategy Execution #15: Aligning Strategy and Culture

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Arnoud van der Maas, featured by LinkedIn Pulse. To read the complete article, check out others, and sign up to receive email alerts, please click here.

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This is the 15th part of my Strategy Execution Series based on” target=”_blank”>my PhD thesis. This is the second part of my post on aligning strategy and culture.

The culture of an organization must be aligned to its strategy. The culture can make or break a strategy. When then the existing culture of the organization does not support the strategy it must be changed. This is a challenging task as organization cultures are hard and slow to change. Successfully changing a culture often takes years and a total commitment of leaders and managers. In my last post I discussed the first three emanations of the culture of fear: the fear for losing one’s job, the fear for making mistakes and the fear for making mistakes. In this part II discuss the last three emenations of the culture of fear and how to change it and create a fearless culture that supports strategy execution.

Fear of responsibility

A fourth emanation of the culture of fear is a fear of responsibility. When organizational are fearful of being punished or even lose their job they become afraid to make mistakes. This creates a fear to carry responsibility. When someone is responsible for something they can be held accountable for it when something happens. To avoid taking the blame for something, organizational members tend to take a narrow view on their responsibilities and tend to shift them to others. When organizational members avoid responsibility this has the following consequences for strategy execution.

Subordinates avoid responsibility. Organizational members may fear responsibility because of the following reasons. They may find it easier to ask the manager to make decisions, may fear criticism or punishment for mistakes, may believe they lack the required resources and information to perform well, may already be overloaded with work, and positive incentives may be insufficient. When a person is responsible for something, that person can be held accountable and may be punished when something goes wrong or when a mistake is made. However, accountability is crucial for successful strategy execution. When no one feels responsible for a certain tasks or activity it is likely that it will not performed at all. Furthermore, when no one is responsible it is difficult if not impossible to address someone for poor performance.

Employees are not used to responsibility. My research found that employees may fear responsibility because they are not used to it. Organizational members are often not used to dealing with responsibilities because of the authoritarian management style within many organizations. Hierarchical organizations tend to make organizational members languid and thus unable and/or unwilling to carry responsibilities. In such organizations, organizational members have a tendency to think in a hierarchical way in that management is responsible and should therefore make the decisions.

Employees do not expect responsibility. Employees do no always expect or want to be responsible. This is often the case in cultures with what Geert Hofstede calls a high power distance. All individuals are not equal in cultures with a high power distance. Hofstede defines power distance as the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. Hierarchy in organizations is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities. Organizations are often highly centralized and subordinates are expected to be told what to do. The ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat in such a culture. Participative leaders are often seen as weak or incompetent.

Low autonomy jobs induce low responsibility. It has been long recognized that rigidly defined jobs with low autonomy encourages a narrow perspective of the persons who have to perform these jobs. Such a narrow role orientation can also be the result of ‘learned responses to early job experiences in which taking initiative and using extra skill and judgment were severely penalized as stepping over the bounds of one’s authority’ (Karasek and Theorell, 1990: 174). My research found that a centralized organization structure combined with an authoritarian and punitive management style often resulted in a narrow role orientation and a low willingness to carry responsibility.

Note: This article is the 13th part in a 22-part series on strategy execution. This series is based on my PhD thesis on Strategy Execution. My previous posts in this series can be found here.

Thank you for reading my post. Please leave a comment as it allows us to learn from each other and helps me to sharpen my articles. You can contact me directly” target=”_blank”>here. Connect with me on LinkedIn if you share my passion for strategy and strategy execution. Follow me on SlideShare or Twitter for articles and presentations on Strategy Execution.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Arnoud van der Maas is a consultant, author and speaker in Strategy & Strategy Execution. He is owner of Strataegos Consulting, a strategy consultancy focussed on strategy execution. He received a PhD in Strategy from Rotterdam School of Management, one of the top business schools in Europe. His passion is to empower organizations to better develop and execute their strategy.

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