Strategic Cultures Drive Organizational Performance

by Dr. Leslie L. McKnight

Infusing a strategic orientation into an organization’s culture will allow it to excel in rapidly changing times.

Organizations today are dealing with rapid-paced changes due to advances in technology, social mediums, globalization and economic fluctuations. Strategic plans, traditionally developed in response to environmental changes, involve the top-level leaders in an organization; once adopted, the responsibility for implementation falls on the senior management team.

For those intent on building agility and nimbleness within their organization, there is an emerging movement to infuse a strategic orientation into an organization’s culture to achieve maximum performance. Most organizations are already designed for stability through rules and controls, but when an organization adopts a strategic orientation mindset as a culture, it’s necessary to involve the entire system in order to align strategy with day-to-day decisionmaking.

Strategic thinkers are put in place for strategic leadership that ideally funnels from the top down to senior-level management, middle managers and line staff. As the practice of strategic thinking is incorporated into the organization’s culture, it is grown to the point that every employee is strategic in his or her choices, behaviors and performance. Such an organization will be very adaptable to environmental threats, jolts and punctuations, and can demonstrate that agility during crises that may threaten its survival.

A strategic system can be a powerful force in any industry or organization. The following are cultural antecedents that must be in place to align strategic goals with organization performance.

Participative Management
Today, the need for effective and highly competent managers is greater than ever. Managers in strategic practice will work with employees to strategize dynamic thinking, focusing on the future to obtain positive change. The preferred management style in a strategic environment should be one of instruction and guidance—not control.

Participative management is practiced when power is shared, members are given an opportunity to participate, work is conducted by consensus, and multidisciplinary teams are utilized to implement processes. Effective leaders will garner participation and buy-in, act as coaches and mentors, and manage conflict. Communication channels should be porous so that ideas, information, capabilities, information, rewards and actions can be deployed quickly, wherever they are most needed.

Participative managers have the ability to develop diverse, self-directed teams and create an environment in which energy, imagination and capacity for learning are unleashed. Management will also demonstrate the values of employees and ideas, framing a corporate culture in which everyone must adopt the new principles and values, particularly senior managers. Senior leadership has the opportunity to articulate the shared purpose, provide overall direction, and develop critical success factors for the organization to improve and flourish. However, if top management does not become involved, the entire process will be undermined.

Human Resource Management
A strategically-aligned organization will integrate innovative human resource management (HRM) approaches in order to incentivize motivation and establish rewards systems. They will also have an environment that cultivates and nurtures input and creativity. HRM strategies will specifically align job designs, layers of management, and employee engagement and training programs to the organization’s strategic goals.

Recruitment strategies will re-conceptualize the workforce paradigm into a talent force, going beyond basic skills and knowledge to skills that demonstrate innovation, creativity and the ability to work effectively as part of a team. Organizations with a strategic orientation will seek specialized talent with the ability to work cross-functionally. In addition, diversity will be evident in the talent force to foster a wealth of competencies and perspectives in ideas and problem-solving. Profits will be measured not just by financial performance, but also as a byproduct of job satisfaction, work-life balance, diverse and progressive cultures, and transparency and engagement.

Continuous, Guided Change
Finding new ways of working smarter is a never-ending task in today’s environment. Strategic change efforts will take time to be adopted—and adapted—in order to achieve long-term results. Organizations must be able to identify change agents at all levels and have them at the table collectively in order to obtain a more strategic system-wide design.

Change agents must have the ability to create a sense of urgency, with the social and technical skillsets needed to manage change. They will work collectively within the organization to design interventions related to the organization’s process, work design, strategy, structure, performance, product, learning and transformation. These change interventions can be constructed through guided change, involving members throughout the organization who will ultimately enhance its learning and problem-solving capacities. The guided-change model provides a continuous loop to measure and reassess performance, as well as garner feedback on the change efforts. Interventions will be sustainable, shape continuous learning and produce desired results related to improvement of the organization’s effectiveness.

Just as economies are volatile, organizations are too. Those organizations that will excel in changing markets will take a more synergistic, inclusive approach to conscious capitalism in strategy and implementation for their organization. An organization with a strategic culture will institutionalize continuous learning, intellectual capital and emotional intelligence, and be highly flexible and responsive in chaotic, complex environments. The organization will adopt a broad, shared vision of the future; an identity, destiny and perspective with regard to its goals and how they can be achieved; management that knows how to get everyone to pull in the same direction; and leadership that is a driving force for change, drawing its strength from a culture of trust and commitment. iBi

Dr. Leslie L. McKnight is senior economic development specialist for the City of Peoria and adjunct faculty for MBA programs at Benedictine University and Robert Morris University.

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