On Leadership, Change and Transition

Changes AheadChange is never easy. Change is a bumpy process. Change is uncomfortable. And it create problems.

But why is change so hard? 

Leaving the Familiar

Change is hard because it is an emotional experience for most. An emotional experience, particularly an experience one often has little choice in being part of, creates resistance. 

Resistance is a natural emotion, though an emotion that can make change even harder.

 “All resistance is mobilization of energy, not lack of energy. Those who “resist” are “bundles of energy” not passive, lifeless blobs” – Nevis (1998).

However, resistance must be managed to harness that energy for positive change. Managing resistance requires focusing on not just change, but also transition.

Understanding Transitions

Often in managing change individuals and organizations neglect to address “transition.” According to William Bridges, transition is the psychological movement through the change.

Change Bridges

Transition consists of three parts:

  • The Ending (of what was)
  • The Neutral Zone (muddling and creative period)
  • The New Beginning (of what is)
People go through the phases of transition at their own pace, not necessarily at the pace of others or the pace of an organization. It is important for people to be supportedthroughout each phase.

“To ease the difficulties of the change process a focus on transition must run in parallel to a focus on change.”

Change is the actual physical event (merger, new job, graduating from college, getting married, getting divorced, new baby, new grandbaby, new boss, and so on). There are three primary reasons people view change as difficult and thus resist change.

  • Loss of self, power, influence, or perceived value
  • Having to learn something new
  • Lack of understanding on “why” they need to change

Many times people view change as a statement that they are underperforming or not doing a good enough job.

Managing Transistions

People often see the impending change as a threat to their established reputation, quality of life, or future with the 

community. Most people that resist change fear having to learn new skills, concepts, or policies.

Whether it’s learning a new computer system, operational skills or even how to get something approved, organizational improvements and change efforts threaten their current status-quo.

“The way ‘ we have always done it’ works just fine.”

The thought of changing behavior scares people. The majority of people who resist change simply don’t understand why things need to be different.  “It’s the way we’ve always done it” is the typical response from this group. Not successfully addressing these issues increases resistance.

Wherever there is a change effort, there will be resistance” – Beckhard & Pritchard (1992).

Do you resist change? How do you deal with individual and organizational change and transition? Does the idea of a big change strike fear in you, or does it bring optimism and hope? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Scott Span

Scott Span, MSOD is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management Firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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Leaders: 5 Best Practices For Increasing Employee Retention

Hey leaders, what employee retention strategies do you use to engage and retain employees? Statistics from research done by the labor bureau show that the average American will hold around 11.3 jobs during their working years.

The average number of jobs held is actually going up- especially with Millennials.

Eleven may seem like a really high number – however that depends on various factors, including the work you do, and what generation you are from. Employee retention doesn’t just happen.

Providing Your Success

Employee retention is critical to the success of an organization. Without a focus and an understanding of people, behaviors, and what engagement and rewards strategies work for best for your culture, reducing turnover can be even more difficult.

It’s not always easy, so to help, try using an Employee Engagement & Retention Checklist with a high-level overview of steps to take toward success with some employee retention strategies.

People decide to switch jobs for a wide variety of reasons.

New blood is a good thing, but a constant turnover is detrimental to performance, morale, and the overall sustainability.

Some reasons are related to personal or life changes and are completely unrelated to the job itself. Consequently, a business can’t expect to impact or change all departures. Though with workers switching jobs roughly every 4.4 years, businesses do need to be focused on the aspects of employee retention they can influence.

What is Driving Your Employees?

What is Driving Your Employees?

5 Best Practices For Increasing Employee Retention

So, what are some of the best practices for increasing employee retention?

1) Provide career navigation and personal branding strategies from the get-go.

Involve employees in the process as much as possible. Ask questions to find how what motivates them. Employee development is also key because it is important to provide coaching, educational opportunities, and training programs. By helping people plan their desired path within in an organization, setting concrete goals, and providing support to help them achieve those goals, engagement and retention increases.

2) Hiring the right managers makes all the difference. 

Steve Miranda, Managing Director for Cornell University’s “Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies” (CAHRS), said in an interview that he believed 80% of employee turnover resulted from the environment created by a manager as opposed to the company at large.

So it’s critical to work closely to make sure there’s a consistent open line of communication between employees and managers, and that managers are working collaboratively and positively with their employees.

3) Work to create a culture of trust. 

An organization with a culture of trust often has higher levels of performance and retention. An organization with a culture of distrust is an organization destined to be doomed.

To maintain positive employee retention make sure your organization has a culture of trust, not distrust.

4) Recognize good performance. 

Be it financially or with some other non-monetary benefits (NMBs), make sure employees are recognized when they achieve their goals and perform above and beyond. Pulse your workforce for their preferred means of recognition and then implement various strategies based on that feedback.

With workforce demographics changing, a one size fits all approach no longer works.

It’s important to pay attention to what each motivates different employees. Not all employees prefer to be recognized for a job well done in the same ways. As we’ve said before, if unsure the best ways to engage and retain employees – ASK THEM.

5) Hire the right kind of employees for skills and culture fit. 

A focus on both aspects is important to success. Sure, some people are “shooting stars”, and you’d be lucky to catch them, but if they’re not a fit for the culture of your organization then you’re not likely to see maximum performance or retention.

By interviewing and choosing the right hires in the first place, you’re getting a leg up on setting up a relationship that can last.

Real Motivation

Though, there are many other employee retention strategies for engaging and retaining employees, these tips should serve as a good start. Be transparent, have a clear employee value proposition, communicate with employees early and often, know what they want and what you want, and what motivates them.

This should help set you up for a successful partnership that leads to a higher performance and retention.

So what type of environment are you maintaining? Is it one of trust, or of something else? What are you doing to understand what drives your employees to bring out their best and to want to stick around? Are you taking the time to undestand how best to retain your folks? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Scott Span

Scott Span, MSOD is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management Firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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Is the Entitlement Generation Really Entitled?

Funny Get Well Ecard: You have what we call an Irrational Sense of Entitlement. It won't kill you, but it will cause you to believe that you deserve things for doing nothing.

They are spoiled, uncooperative, impatient, lazy, and worse. These are just a few of the words used to describe some who have been deemed the “entitlement generation.” They are often called Millennials, or Gen Y, or even Generation C.

Sure, with stories like the 18-year old woman who is suing her parents for financial support flying around the web, is anyone really surprised?

Getting a Grip

I must admit, even as a latter Gen Y myself, this extreme entitlement mentality phenomenon somewhat shocks me. I would never come to conclude that I would sue my parents to support my “independent lifestyle.” Rather, I would hear my mother’s voice in my head saying what she used to say to me as a kid when I’d complain and moan:

“…Fine you want to leave… you’re so miserable… then just remember this – You leave this house the way you came into it – with nothing!”

Needless to say, I never left abruptly. And I certainly didn’t sue them for college tuition either!

Thanks, Mom!

Getting Focused

But about the young woman suing her parents, I had a very different upbringing. And I cannot take her example and project that entitled behavior on an entire generation. My parents taught me to not pass judgment based on one person’s behavior and then generalize that aberration across the entire population.

In fact, the entitlement generation (let’s just call them Millennials) do have a lot to bring to the table.

They bring new ways of doing things. They bring vitality, innovation, and next-gen savvy. With a record 47% of the active adult working population being labeled as a Millennial this year, there may be a lot of work left to be done to integrate them into the business world.

But for your business to grow and succeed, you should be harnessing what they have to offer and not scoffing at them.

Getting to the Next Level

Some hot button issues my clients usually mention relate to work hours, social mediatechnology, and an overall general attitude and communication style.

Though I am not one to recommend catering to any one particular demographics’ demands without requesting something in return, this generation has the potential to bring a business to the next level.

So rather than dig your feet into the ground – why not alter how you do business a bit to make it work for everyone – a win/win?

Getting Started

Here are a few ideas to help you get started:              

Coaching and Communication

Millennials are not afraid to speak up or call the boss by his first name. They believe that communication is imperative in all directions, up, down, and lateral. To engage this generation create an environment where they are encouraged and rewarded for speaking up about ideas and concerns, regardless of level in the organization.

Don’t view this as disrespect; harness this style of communication, which often leads to innovation. Millennials prefer coaches not bosses.

  • To engage Millennials, add a structured coaching or mentoring program to your organization – cross generational if possible. Build in frequent developmental check-ins and create a trusted relationship and space for discussion. Helping to guide open communication, career progression, and build trust leads to increased engagement, innovation and high performance.


Millennials need to feel connected to the organization to stay engaged. They expect a seat at the table, want questions answered directly, often challenge the status quo, they have a need to understand the big picture – this doesn’t mean they expect to be CEO tomorrow. Don’t just give access and advice to your corporate strategy, mission, and vision to senior leaders.

Allow access to and input from your Millennial non-executive employees as well. They tend to feel more connected and engaged when they know their own values and beliefs and work align to those of the organization.

  • To engage Millennials, provide the opportunity to give and receive feedback, not just regarding their own careers but on the overall direction and vision of the organization, this is important to Millennials and helps them feel heard, respected, connected and stay engaged.

Tap Into Technology

Millennials are used to technology, some were even born with it at their fingertips.  They aren’t scared of new technologies and adapt fast to new innovations. Many are creating their own (do you have an ap for that?) Don’t shy away from new technologies that enable telecommuting or virtual work environments, that facilitate learning and training on the go, or that help contribute to work life balance.

Utilize video teleconferencing, Webinars, and test out whatever is new and innovative. Technology can be used to encourage group and project based work. Use technology – and social media – to build in collaboration, create informal team building exercises, and as a communication tool for positive public relations for your organization.

  • To engage Millennials, use social media and new technology as a communication and feedback tool and for telecommuting and enhancing collaboration.  Creating public forums for employees to pose insights, questions and concerns, and for the organization to have a place to respond real time to address issues, and share information. This helps everyone feel heard and can increase engagement and productivity.

Getting Results

As you can see - there are things you can provide to harness Millennial innovation that don’t necessarily cost large sums of money nor do they alter your organization’s values and strategy.

This generation, when given the opportunity,  provides businesses with ideas and innovations that will give you the edge when it comes to winning over customers.

(Just advise your General Counsel not to cancel the tuition reimbursement program!)

So how do you feel about the “entitlement generation?” Do you see these types of people in your organization? If so, how do you interact, deal with, and support their disposition?  I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Scott Span

Scott Span, MSOD is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management Firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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Hey Entrepreneur – Are You Building Your Start-up For Success?

As an entrepreneur  – you know what it takes to make your start-up a success – right?

Building a successful startup isn’t easy!

More Than a Plan

To have a successful business, to gain investors, create a reputable brand, and generate revenue – it takes more than a sound strategic plan – it takes talented, committed, and dedicated people who are willing to give 100%.

Your strategic plan may be sound, and your first round of funding may be secured, but long-term growth and success won’t be achieved without a focus on people and culture. These things – often not addressed in a start-up environment – could derail your entire operation.

Sure – you have the strategy.

However, do your people…

  • Know what it is, and do they know how they fit into making the mission and vision a reality?
  • Understand how the day-to-day work they perform contributes to continued growth?
  • Understand the plan for the future?
  • Know what is expected of them and what they can expect in return for a job a well done?

Wearing Many Hats

These are just a few of the people-focused areas your strategy should address. After all, if you can’t maximize people –> performance –> profit, then you’re not likely to grow from start-up to successful business.

In a lean start-up environment people must wear many hats, and they must be inspired to do so, and inspired to perform above and beyond a single job description.

“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” ~Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder

Creating a Culture of Success

All too often, start-ups usually get stuck at a certain point. This is where a focus on more than just strategy and funding becomes imperative to success.  You need to create a high performing culture – one that focuses on people.

So here are some things you can focus on to help your growing business SUCCEED:


To develop an organization with a successful high performing culture flexible and adaptable process must be in place. Processes should support in developing the ability of the organization to change as it grows (flexibility, speed and ability to learn).

Processes should support a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

Processes should be continuously improved, simplified and coordinated, to support the organization strategy. Often start-ups over complicate as they grow instead of focusing on how to streamline.

The more that processes help relevant and correct information be reported and delivered, the faster decisions can be made, and the faster products and services can be continuously developed, updated and improved.


To achieve a high performing culture and sustainable business, frequent, transparent, and authentic communication among leadership, employees, stakeholders and customers is a necessity. Often in a start-up environment leadership trends to under communicate, not share details regarding strategy, funding, governance and growth.

To keep employees engaged in your products and services and committed to the organizations strategy, mission, and vision, they need to know what is going on and why, the good and the bad, (within in reason).


Leadership is a driving force behind creating and maintaining a high performing culture and turning a start-up into a thriving business. Leaders serve as role models through their actions and behaviors. High performing organizations have committed leaders who can rally people around a deeper sense of purpose. In most cases these leaders are also expert communicators.

Through their management, leaders of organizations with a high performing culture have the ability to translate ideals into action. These leaders not only know their organization; they know the type of people in their organization and how those people’s contributions help to achieve the strategic goals. Leaders who help achieve a high performing culture are ethical, approachable, relatable, and involved.

So follow these 3-key components to make your start-up into a successful sustainable business – or build to the point of selling for a boatload of cash. To see the full list of tips to make your start-up a high performing business, click here to see our checklist.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Scott Span

Scott Span, MSOD is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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On Leadership, Generations and Social Media Policy

Social Media Policy

These days, almost every orientation handbook has it: the dreaded social media policy. Does your company have a social media policy for all generations?

For those organizations that do, some policies can be fairly liberal, like when social media can be used during working hours. Some are more stringent- like how employees use their accounts on their own time.

Social Media is Everywhere

Social media has certainly become more pervasive: 67% of Americans have at least one profile on a social media/networking site, Facebook being the most common. So now that the majority of American workers are using social media, it makes sense that businesses are becoming more focused on monitoring and use of employee’s online activity.

So what does your social media policy say about your culture?

We’re in an age where people are routinely fired for “abusing” social media. There is an increase in lawsuits serving as proof. But what’s worth noting with the rise of social media policies in the office is that different generations have different views on the use of social media.

Social media policies impact employee productivity and performance differently across the generations. So how can businesses figure out how to develop social media policies?

Workplace Generations & Social Media


Yup…the “youngins,” the fastest growing segment of the workforce, the ones born with technology at their fingertips. Social media is a way of life for this generation. The 24-hour news cycle, information sharing in real-time; it’s not changing.

Yes, you can be concerned about how their use of social media impacts your brand – but you can’t censor them.

They’re going to talk about their boss, their business, and their views. They’re going to share this information with friends, family, peers and it’s going to be public. They don’t necessarily mind if you see it but don’t think you have the right to request it as part of their job. The best policy – let them talk or they may walk – and then create not-so-nice talk.

Gen X

The squashed generation. Gen X has a comfort with technology and social media. This cohort is also very active on social media. They have a bit more private view of information sharing than Millennials. Though they believe in sharing, and they believe in collaboration, they are more inclined to accept policies that place some boundaries around the use of social media to express personal views related to business.

They have mixed views on strict social media policies. This generation understands it’s a balance.

They can survive without using social media to express their views and without using it at work or to get work done.

Baby Boomers

These folks may be the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, but they really tend to use it much more for personal use (unless they’re entrepreneurs.) Boomers lean toward using social media for socializing with children, grandchildren, peers, and old friends. They are a much more private generation when it comes to publicly expressing views of both a personal and business nature.

Boomers also have much less of an issue with following policies and procedures set forth by management.

They can live without using social media to get work done or vent about business. If you really want to know what they think – listen to them having a face to face chat with peers.

Social Is as Social Does

So as you may have heard over and over: your social media is usually just that: social.

  • Social as in personal
  • Do it on your own time
  • Keep it personal
  • Don’t use it to discuss anything you don’t want to display publicly.

But let’s face it: most employees have almost constant access to the internet in some way or another. Sure, you can block social media websites at work; you can attempt to track social media usage, but mobile phones? Tablets? It’s impossible.

Yes, social media use can help increase performance and engagement. So the best thing to do is to develop an all-inclusive cross-generational social media policy, one that bridges the generation gap.

Social Media Guidelines

When creating a social media policy, here is a quick guide of things to consider:

  • Know the culture of your organization
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of a conservative, moderate or liberal policy
  • Create a  balance of employee vs. management needs
  • Focus on improving work productivity and engagement
  • Determine the comfort level with transparent communication
  • Implement policies that increase innovation
  • Use social media to recruit the right talent (skills and culture fit)
  • Create policies that build accountability and personal responsibility

If you hear or see your employees talking about your business on social media, if you have the ability, engage them in discussion via social media. If friends and peers see that their employer is trying to work with them, instead of against them, it only serves to create a win-win situation.

If you use social media for recruitment, then understand those you recruit will expect that using it for or to discuss work is also acceptable. Don’t create a culture of hypocrisy. Sure, some businesses and some industries must regulate social media use, and rightfully so in some instances. A big difference exists between regulation and oppression.

Besides – not all talk is bad talk!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Scott Span
Scott Span
 is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
Email | Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Facebook

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Technical Foul: Leadership Lessons from the Rutgers Basketball Scandal


What leadership lessons can we learn from the recent firing of Rutgers coach Mike Rice?

If you have been following the news story about how now former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was verbally and physically abusing his players, then you undoubtedly know that he was fired and that his assistant Jimmy Martelli has also recently resigned.

In addition, others at the university are also under investigation.

Why is this happening?  Mike Rice has been shown in videos as a poor example of a leader – shoving, throwing basketballs, yelling gay slurs at players. Some call it passion. But is this passion appropriate?

Passion on Display

Passion is important, but how that passion is displayed is also very important. Now, we all have a different level of tolerance for “tough love” leadership; however, for those serving as role models for young people, distinguishing between an appropriate amount of toughness and going too far often becomes a fine line. Unfortunately for many involved, Mike Rice crossed that line on more than one occasion.

New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, said it perfectly:

This is not the type of example we should be setting for our young people.”

The Governor is absolutely correct. Most of us learn by example. We learn by what we see and hear. Leaders need to set good examples for those they lead, whether on the court or in the boardroom. Rice’s example of leadership was a most certainly poor one.

L2L Reader Survey 2013

Levels of Acceptable Behavior

What this shows is when you’re teaching someone to do something, that if they don’t do it right, instead of encouraging them (and that’s not to say, particularly in sports, that a bit of tough love is discouraged when used appropriately) being physically or verbally abusive is an acceptable way to motivate them to perform. It isn’t.

“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.” ~ Vince Lombardi

The evidence that this does not work can be proved simply by looking at Mike’s record over his 3 years as head coach. His record shows a measly 44 wins and 51 losses. Now, his type of leadership style is not the only reason for the losing record, however it is certainly a contributing factor to it.

Whether you are a coach, a CEO, an educator, or a Governor, it’s your job to lead by positive example.

It is your job to lead the team in a way that inspires others and make others want to follow you. You have to do this whether they are players, employees, or constituents. Good leadership is about supporting and influencing in a way that makes others want to follow your lead, respect you, and trust you.

Creating Your Environment

It’s the job of a good leader to create an environment in which people can fully develop their potential and actively participate to the fullest extent for the benefit of themselves and the group.

Good leaders should never need to resort to belittlement, manipulation, or force.

Imagine how people would have responded if Governor Christie threw basketballs at those who ignored his warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Sandy?  Imagine if a CEO yelled slurs at an employee for not grasping a concept they were trying to convey? They may not get fired, but they certainly will have a tougher time gaining support and high performance in the future.

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. ~ Sam Walton

So how do you lead by example and gain high performance? How do you get people to follow, respect, and support your leadership?

3 Ways to High Performance Leadership


Be transparent. If your team isn’t performing to what you think is the best of their ability, then tell them, and explain why. Offer some constructive criticism and ideas for improvement. Ask their opinions. Don’t scream and yell and throw a tantrum.

People can usually tell when “something is up.”

So before frustration mounts and productivity is impacted, communicate with your team. When trying to increase performance, making strategic decisions, determining changes, or facing issues that impact the team or organization, successful leaders need to be very specific in their actions

They need to be transparent and to communicate with those they lead about the concerns, performance, how these matters arose, their thought process for improvement and how solutions or lack of action may directly impact those they lead.


Create a safe and trusting environment. This can’t happen if you’re verbally, emotionally or physically abusive to those you lead.

Trust is a fundamental behavior for any relationship, both personal and professional.

According to a study by the Hay Group, a global management consultancy, there are 75 key components of employee satisfaction (Lamb & McKee, 2009).

They found this: Trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction and high performance.

Trust must be earned. Leaders can earn employee trust by helping those they lead understand the overall strategy and mission, informing them how they contribute to achieving key goals, and sharing information with their team on both how the organization is doing and how a team member’s own performance is relative to organizational objectives.

It is much easier for employees to trust a leader that supports their growth and development and shows a genuine interest in them.

Self Awareness 

Be self aware. Successful leaders have a heightened level of self-awareness; they have an understanding of themselves, their behaviors and actions, and how those behaviors and actions are interpreted by, and directly impact, those they lead.

Personally, I don’t think Mike Rice was wearing his self-awareness hat.

A good example of leadership self-awareness is exhibited in the U.S. Army’s leadership philosophy of “be, know, do.”

  • Be proficient and competent
  • Know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses
  • Do take responsibility and lead by example

Always be open to further growth and learning. Professional coaching is also a great way to help further develop leader self-awareness.

Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better. ~ Bill Bradley

So, what are you doing to be an example of positive leadership? Are you contributing to high performance or hindering long-term success? Remember, whether a leader on the court or in the office – you’re a role model – so act like one!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Scott Span
Scott Span
 is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
Email | Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Facebook

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Strategy vs. Culture – Can We Call A Truce?

Strategy and Culture

Much discussion has transpired lately regarding strategy and culture in the workplace. And often it becomes a battle between which is more important and why.

Although I find the various points of view to both be of value and interest, I find the entire discussion to be quit absurd.

Can we call a truce?

Debating Strategy & Culture

I imagine that if “Sally Strategy” and “Calvin Culture” were having a debate, it would go something like this…


Sally Strategy:

“Calvin, I find that you sometimes make it very difficult for me to do my job! It’s hard to keep us on track when I feel you and I aren’t on the same page.”

Calvin Culture:

“Well Sally, I sometimes feel the same way. Your job doesn’t always fit in with my work, sometimes you can be an impediment to what I’m trying to achieve.”

Sally Strategy:

“Oh really, how’s that Calvin? What exactly is it you’re trying to achieve?”

Calvin Culture:

“Well Sally, I’m trying to achieve building a positive environment for our people, an environment with a clear set of values and norms that engages and aligns our people, unifying them in delivering high performance and value to our customers. I just feel that the direction you’ve set can be a bit rigid and can be prohibitive to my work.”

Sally Strategy:

“Interesting point, Calvin. You realize when I first started my work my intent was not just to help us formulate a clear direction and define who we wanted to be – but also to help us get there. It’s my job to execute, to get things done. Though we have come a long way since I first started my work and it may be time to revisit a few things. After all, I can’t get things done if I’m in the way.”

Calvin Culture:

“Don’t get me wrong, Sally, I couldn’t do my job without you, and I value the direction and execution you bring to our work, as we both play a huge part in the happiness of employees and customers and in overall success, perhaps we could collaborate together more closely moving forward?”

(*Aside – See the way that was phrased?  Calvin acknowledged what Sally brings to the table and made her feel valuable and important to the process.  Speaking to and providing feedback to your employees in this style can be beneficial to engagement and performance…but more on that in another article.)

Sally Strategy:

“That sounds like a fantastic idea. I’m glad we got a chance to connect. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Calvin. Let’s stay in communication.”


In reality, culture and strategy are often viewed independently – they are both parts of the system and need to be viewed together.

Understanding Strategy

Strategy can be defined in various ways…

  • According to Henry Mintzberg’s book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning:
    • Strategy is a plan, a “how,” a means of getting from here to there.
    • Strategy is a pattern in actions over time; for example, a company that regularly markets very expensive products is using a “high end” strategy.
    • Strategy is position; that is, it reflects decisions to offer particular products or services in particular markets.
    • Strategy is perspective, that is, vision and direction.
  • According to Kenneth Andrews’s book, The Concept of Corporate Strategy:
    • “Corporate strategy is the pattern of decisions in a company that determines and reveals its objectives, purposes, or goals, produces the principal policies and plans for achieving those goals, and defines the range of business the company is to pursue…”
  • According to Michael Porter in his Harvard Business Review article and books:
    •  Strategy is “…about being different…It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” “…It is a combination of the ends (goals) for which the firm is striving and the means (policies) by which it is seeking to get there.”

A strategy delineates a territory in which a company seeks to be unique. ~ Michael Porter

Based on how most define strategy, the main reason for the existence of strategy is to achieve end goals. Culture is the environment in which strategy achieves those end goals.

It is a general framework that provides guidance for actions to be taken, and, at the same time, is shaped by the actions taken…this shaping in part occurs due to the culture.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Understanding Culture

Culture can be defined in various ways…

  • According to Edgar Schein:
    • Organizational culture is “A pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”
  • According to Charles W. L. Hill, and Gareth R. Jones book Strategic Management:
    • Culture is “the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization.”
  • According to Geert Hofstede:
    • “Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.”

“We tend to think we can separate strategy from culture, but we fail to notice that in most organizations strategic thinking is deeply colored by tacit assumptions about who they are and what their mission is.” ~ Edgar Schein

Your Mission Statement

Whether written as a mission statement, spoken, or just understood, organizational culture describes and governs the ways a company’s leaders, employees, customers and stakeholders think, feel and act.

Culture may be based on beliefs or spelled out in your mission statement – which should be created as part of the strategy.

Beliefs and values are words that will pop up frequently when defining culture. Culture is the identity of a company, and because of that, in some ways it becomes an identity of those who work there, as well.

The people end up affecting the culture as much as the culture is affecting them.

So while there are many definitions of organizational culture, all of them focus on the same points:

  • Collective experience
  • Structures
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Norms
  • Systems

These are learned and re-learned, passed on to new employees, and continues on as part of a company’s core identity.

So – culture is how “work gets done around here” and strategy determines “what work gets done around here.”  A positive culture and a clear strategy are both needed for organizational, employee and customer satisfaction and success. After all…

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. ~ Michael LeBoeuf

Calling a Truce

We need to call a truce and work more collaboratively, both between and with culture and strategy, to truly create high performing organizations. Based on the definitions, and based on my experiences, the relationship between culture and strategy is – or at least should be- a symbiotic relationship.

What do you think…Is a battle between culture and strategy occurring in your organization? Do you think one is more important than another? If so why or why not?

*In this article, culture refers specifically to corporate and organizational culture and strategy to organization and business strategy.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Scott Span
Scott Span
 is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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