Most large organisations have a Strategy Director who often acts as the right-hand man to the CEO. She/he may be tasked with developing a 3-year plan which will start with statements of Vision and Mission and definitions of strategic ‘pillars’, of which there are usually four. So far so good. When the 100-slide deck emerges just before (or usually just after) the start of the new financial year, it is cascaded top down with enthusiasm, clarity, excitement and sometimes realism. Lessons from the previous year are claimed to be learnt, new competences will be developed, and life is good.

But there’s often something missing.

In order for a strategic plan to move from ‘Power-point to execution’ it needs an enabling culture. The beliefs, behaviours & critically the practices of the organisation need to be aligned and enable execution of the plan.

The link between beliefs, behaviours and practices is critical

People start to behave in a new or changed way when they ‘believe’ it is the right thing to do. For example, let’s say we are working for a fast-moving consumer goods company and Sales & Marketing are charged with delivering the commercial plan. This is not uncommon and requires strong cooperation between the two functions to execute effectively. It is important to note here that the plan usually has a quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (category, brand, portfolio) aspect to it. What happens next?

Belief system 1: In our company we believe sales & marketing should be focused on their own objectives and measured according to their own KPIs.

Characteristics: Sales will often see Marketing as a huge cost and guilty of over-intellectualising a simple process of giving the customer what he wants. Further, sales usually wish marketing would leave them alone. Marketing reluctantly accept sales as a necessary evil who seem incapable of selling profitably and should be given much tighter objectives and under no circumstances allowed to negotiate price. When we fail each blames the other and their perception of the other is strengthened.

Belief system 2: In our company we believe sales & marketing are co-dependent. If one fails, we both fail, and we should share commercial objectives.

Characteristics: People move from Sales to Marketing and vice versa to gain empathy and insight. We cooperate to build long-term equity in our brands and hence are prepared to walk away from a bad deal. We all feel proud of our brands and rarely take short-term opportunities that are misaligned with our strategy. Most of our meetings are cross-functional.

Many of you may recognise one or both of these belief systems. However, here’s the problem; many companies have Belief system 1 but the objective of achieving the characteristics associated with Belief system 2. It won’t happen. They are simply ‘hoping’ to see the behaviours they need to achieve success.

We must change beliefs before we change the behaviours and practices that will help us to execute our strategy in both quantitative and qualitative ways.

In order to change we need to understand what ‘beliefs’ exist today. This means a deep dive into culture, not a superficial scan of observed characteristics or symptoms. When sales blame marketing for the failure, you don’t have a ‘blame’ culture; you have a belief that cooperation between sales & marketing isn’t necessary. In other words, the issue is deeper and can be found in the belief system.

Don’t try to fix the symptoms, fix the cause!

A good culture tool will help you understand your underlying beliefs and guide you to the behavioural and technical improvements you need to make to ensure your change is embedded and sustainable.

Maybe you’d like to try our HR toolkit?