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FUSE in Focus

A community that brings designers and brand strategists together through creative, inspirational, educational, and thought-provoking content.

Design for People: Culture v Strategy

Does one eat the other's lunch or do they share a biscuit over tea?

We've had the privilege of observing numerous organizations, businesses
and foundations ranging from one to nearly one hundred thousand employees
worldwide. We've watched thoughtfully designed efforts take fire inside a
corporation and others fizzle out before leaving an inbox. When this happens,
we wonder, how much of a role does the culture or strategy have in whether or
not something advances within an organization?
We've spent some time reviewing the current conversation around the
topic of 'Strategy vs. Culture.' One side of the debate, "Culture vs. Strategy:
What's More Important?",
relegates culture to ping pong, pool
tables and coffee breaks. On the other side, "Culture
Trumps Strategy, Every Time,"
doesn't seem to go far enough '
perhaps that's because they're promoting a book. 
Let's frame this up and see where it goes from a
design perspective. 
Here's a basic set of four types of culture.  We've
added corporations we've worked with that embody each of these culture types.
1.    Clan oriented cultures are
family-like, with a focus on mentoring, nurturing, and 'doing things together.'
(Patagonia)
2.    Adhocracy oriented cultures are
dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on risk-taking, innovation, and
'doing things first.' (Herman Miller)
3.    Market oriented cultures are
results oriented, with a focus on competition, achievement, and 'getting the
job done.' (3M)
4.    Hierarchy oriented cultures are
structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency, stability and 'doing
things right.' (IBM)
When you thoughtfully design a plan
(i.e. formulate a strategy) for the direction you will take a brand,
product line, new offering or other organizational initiative, do you consider
culture? From our observations, those with experience in the organization
do consider culture. It comes in the form of phrases like, "oh
we would never do something like that" or "we could
never get that idea approved." These are hints at the culture, taken from
people who have been there long enough to know. 
Then, we fold in those new to an organization looking to make a mark and
create necessary change. Those are the exciting ones who might even be called a
virus inside the corporate organism. The change they create challenges culture
or even battles it in a 'clash of clans' manner. But, we also know culture
changes slowly if at all, once established. 
So, perhaps, when something is designed for people inside and outside an
organization it also considers culture a friend not foe. Some strategies just
won't work inside some cultures and some cultures will implode if a strategy is
taken forward (by force) and the organization, brand and people will
suffer. 
From our perspective, it seems like strategy and culture are young Irish
brothers, you can get them to be the best of friends just as easy as find them
in a bloody brawl over a sideways look. This leaves three beliefs coming from
this post: 

1.    We believe the people inside benefit when the two work hard
together. 

2.    We believe it
is better to leverage a culture vs change it in favor of a strategy.

3.    We believe a
strategy can die a thousand deaths inside a culture not able to accept it.

We hope to hear your perspective and experiences on this subject.