I presented with a client last week at the Digital Now conference in Nashville, and we shared the story of how this organization made the shift to clarifying their strategic line of sight, down to a set of both annual AND quarterly goals and metrics. Both the staff and the volunteers had to make some significant adjustments to this new system. The old way of doing things was quite ingrained.
One of the most interesting insights from the presentation was how clear the connection was between (a) the system an organization has in place for implementing its strategy and (b) the culture. That system, in fact, is a huge part of your culture, even though most people put it off in a separate category. Your culture clarifies what’s valued, but that happens via the processes you have in place. So if you start your annual budgeting process with last year’s budget as the base, then you are making it clear that you value the status quo (even if that wasn’t your intention). If your internal conversations about missed targets and goals are full of blame and frustration, then you will inevitably have people setting goals that are easy to achieve—and that means you’ll never have real growth. The way strategy connects to execution will make it clear what’s valued, and that will drive behavior. That’s culture.
Yet too few organizations integrate strategy and execution in their culture work. They may declare new core values, but unless they can ensure that the way they link strategy and execution and execution is aligned with those new values, the values end up as useless posters on the wall. Our approach is different. When we coach leaders, we help them set up a more disciplined bridge that connects strategy and execution, and then we immediately address any areas of culture friction that emerge.
For example, that hypothetical above about how you discuss missed targets is frequently an area of culture friction in real life. We help organizations to set measurable goals for each quarter that are structured as binary outcomes—you either hit the goal, or you don’t, there is no in between. Many staff and volunteer leaders end up realizing they are not comfortable with this approach, particularly when they want to push for some aggressive growth targets. The thought of falling short on targets gives them some anxiety.
But when you do this right, a missed target simply becomes an opportunity to learn something new. What was it about the model underlying that goal was off? Which assumptions did you make that turned out not to be true? Then you apply that learning to the new model you develop for next quarter’s priorities. Over time you’ll get better at your forecasting and target-setting, but as long as you’re learning, missing targets is not the end of the world. Teaching this to staff and volunteer leaders is nothing short of culture change. So if you’re deciding to actively work on your culture, be sure to include your strategy-to-execution bridge as part of your culture work.
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