Culture Lags Strategy

I recently had James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, on my podcast (below) to talk all about — surprise surprise — habit building.

One thing we touched on was time — the time between the development of a habit, good or bad, and the associated outcome.

James went on to say that:

  1. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.
  2. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits.
  3. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits.

This all makes perfect sense because nobody goes from a 34” waistline to a 30” waistline after just one workout.

Strategy Eats Culture for Breakfast

I once wrote that strategy eats culture for breakfast, contrary to the popular meme, because if your strategy involves creating an environment that stimulates certain behaviours, then the culture will inevitably follow.

For example, if I lower an organisation’s delegations of authority, this will result in distributing decision-making down the chain and support a decentralisation of control —something that is fundamental to speed and innovation at any company.

Culture Lags Strategy

However, like habits, our culture too is a lagging measure of our strategy.

For example, I have observed in numerous organisations where lowering delegations of authority didn’t immediately result in distributed decision-making. People who were used to seeking approval from higher-ups continue to do that until they are comfortable making said decisions themselves.

This takes time, and is usually a product of a combination of:

  • leadership actively supporting the strategy (in the case of delegations, pushing back and urging the new approver to make the call)
  • peers leading by example
  • fresh blood, sans legacy mindset, who go by the strategy and processes as they are today, and not what they once were

If your organisation is embarking on a culture change program, be wary of the fact that culture lags strategy, and ensure that, you give culture time to catch up, and don’t consider the job done just because your processes and policies have been updated — ensure people are actively supporting the new ways rather than throwing back to the way things have always been done.