5 Steps to Align Culture to Get Your Employee’s Strategic Buy-In

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Culture eats strategy… strategy trumps culture… on which side of the culture/strategy divide do you fall?

I’ve written about this before, and I tend to side with culture – primarily because culture drives the behaviors of individuals who are the one that achieve your strategy (or not). But culture is the driving force.

Regardless of where you stand, it’s undeniable culture and strategy are deeply intertwined in organizations large and small, global or local, public or private, for-profit or non-profit.

Why culture change efforts fail

Last summer, Towers Watson produced a report on just how deeply this interweaving between the two is and why achieving strategy/culture alignment is critical for success.

Towers Watson also defines culture as “the shared beliefs (either explicit or implicit) that exist within a company and drive behaviors. They write, ”The real question we should be asking is: “How do we understand, manipulate, redirect or recreate the shared beliefs in such a way to drive the real behaviors we need to succeed?”

The report attempts to dig into this, looking at why most culture change efforts fail, identifying a lack of two key elements (quoting):

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  1. A view of culture that goes beyond generic notions of “high performance” and focuses on those aspects of culture uniquely relevant to a company’s particular strategic goals.
  2. A focus on the underlying systems, processes and behaviors to support long-term culture change.

To resolve those challenges, Towers Watson did deep analysis, resulting in a definition of the five (5) primary company strategies for success and the associated “cultural profiles” to achieve those strategies. That breakdown is illustrated here:


5 steps to a strategy/culture connection

This is quite valuable, but how do you make this kind of strategy/culture profile connection real to employees who are the ones focused on achieving the goals? I recommend a five-step process (using the “Customer Service” strategy as an example):

  1. Redefine the culture attributes into actionable core values. (Information Sharing, Teamwork, Customer Focus, Leadership, Decision Making, Taking Action)
  2. Define behaviors associated with each of those core values. (Teamwork behaviors: Committed to common goals, active participation and leadership, open communication up and down the chain, willing sharing of resources)
  3. Frequently and very specifically recognize any and all employees who demonstrate those behaviors by calling out clearly the core value demonstrated and explaining how those behaviors impacted you, the team, the customer or the company for the better. (Sam, you really lived our value of Teamwork when you went out of your way to locate the necessary research materials needed to move the Juno project forward. You didn’t have the information yourself, but you knew who did and how to get that information in the right hands. By doing so quickly and without prompting or direction, you helped us beat project deadlines, thrilling our client and making them a partner for years to come.)
  4. Share that recognition across the organization so it can serve as training for others on what desirable “Teamwork” behaviors look like in the daily work, encouraging others to demonstrate similar actions.
  5. Closely monitor, measure and report on areas where values are being more or less recognized to intervene where necessary with additional training or resources to ensure all employees both understand and are committed to achieving the company’s strategy – in their own work, every day.

What is the primary strategic goal for your organization? How are you aligning your culture (and the associated daily behaviors of employees) to achieve your strategy?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


2 Comments on “5 Steps to Align Culture to Get Your Employee’s Strategic Buy-In

  1. Thanks for the article. I am aware of the Towers report and couldn’t disagree more with the fundamentals of trying to build different culture profiles as a way to simplify this complex topic. This is common with the proliferation of culture content but it’s completely off base with how culture development should work to increase the likelihood of success. Closing gaps to a profile is not the answer.

    Your steps are far better. You are starting with a performance priority, challenge or goal (customer service in you example). I 100% agree with defining both values and expected behaviors (values are not enough). You moved to recognition which I also totally agree with. The gap is often in the definition and ownership of the specific strategies, goals and measures for the priority (customer service). There needs to be a clear approach to define them with employee feedback & prioritization being part of the formula in some way so there is ownership. There also needs to be clear management and communication systems so status and next steps are both defined and clearly communicated in relevant ways (about customer service in your example). Your recognition points become much clearer and easier to manage if plans and expectations are clarified utilizing involvement / engagement.

    My only other suggestion is to look at the values / behaviors and zero in on only 1-2 specific areas to evolve (this is also consistent with many experts on this topic). Some from your value / behavior summary will be strengths but it helps for leaders to focus in on only 1-2 specific behaviors to evolve. General behavior change can take forever but zeroing in on a specific area like accountability, teamwork, discipline / organization, creativity, etc. helps provide focus to the steps you identified and my additional suggestions above.

    I like your article because it does hit many of the bases to nearly guarantee success (performance priority, values + behaviors, recognition). I do think the Towers research misses the mark on the steps required before an organization can zero in on effective talent management like they cover in the second part of the article. Thank You

  2. “Share that recognition across the organization so it can serve as training for others on what desirable “Teamwork” behaviors look like in the daily work, encouraging others to demonstrate similar actions.”

    I think that’s a great idea. Make those behaviors/characteristics that you value obvious to everyone. Call out what you see working because it helps cement those behaviors in everyone’s minds.

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