The Intersection of Strategy, Brand and Culture


I was with a group of business leaders recently and the topic we were discussing was how to lead during a time of instability. You can imagine why this topic was relevant considering the rapid changes in the economic and political climate around the world. Instability can freeze decision making within an organization, just when they need to move faster. It seems every day brings news of another CEO asking their organizations to move more quickly, to react with more agility to new opportunities and new threats. Yet their words don’t seem to be enough.

Is it possible that in order to save time, business leaders need to make time to more clearly integrate strategy, brand and culture? The CEO may understand how everything is connected, but that’s not enough if you are designing for speed during a time of instability. To move quickly, organizations have to distribute decision making much more broadly than they have in the past. The people who are working deep down in the organization, need to better understand the context of their work so they can make better, faster decisions that support the overall strategy. That context can be drawn from notions about the company’s culture and the value proposition of the brand.

We know that people working in an organization don’t remember much about the words they hear in mission statements or strategy documents. Instead, they make sense of the company’s strategy, brands and culture by interacting with other employees and reading the “body language” of the organization reflected in the working environment.

This is why so many of our clients are asking about how their workplace can help workers understand more quickly how the strategy and culture of the organization is changing. It’s difficult to convince employees that you are serious about being agile, when everyone is working in environments that reflect the way they worked 10 or 20 years ago. It’s very difficult for a CEO to speak credibly to employees about collaboration, when nearly all the space is allocated to individual workstations and private offices. To help employees understand the evolving strategies, brand promises and culture of an organization, you have to make it tangible in the work environment.

Once a business leader discovers that the workplace is a strategic tool, they learn to do more with it. They learn to use space to augment human interactions by integrating technology that quickly connects people across time and distance. They learn to create environments that are more inclusive to different working styles, different generations, different cultures, to help each person work in the way that works best for them. They learn that cultivating a workplace that encourages frequent, informal interaction across functions is more powerful and less disruptive than implementing a big matrix organization. They learn to use space to promote experimentation and risk taking, so in times of rapid change, the organization feels the freedom to react quickly to new opportunities and threats.

Written By:

Dave Sylvester

For Steelcase


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