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The future lies in the balance

Written by: Erik Bosman, Investment and strategy aficionado

Chicken or egg, structure versus culture versus strategy. “Structure follows strategy”, said A.C. Chandler. But “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, said Peter Drucker. But isn’t culture impacted by the way we organise ourselves (i.e. our structure)? Should we focus on culture first and determine strategy later, or should we develop the right structure that in turn drives culture and strategy?

This is the dilemma we face regularly in our work. Do we start with the chicken or the egg? Many organisations have a strategy that has served them well so the natural driver of both their structure and culture is their strategy. Other organisations have worked relentlessly on processes, routines and policies and have established a clear way of working. For them, structure drives what they want to do and how they want to do it. And some cultures are so strong that it impacts everything else. But every company may struggle at some point and wonder which lever to pull on to get back on track.

We have found that ultimately there is one thing that binds strategy, structure and culture all together. This one thing that allows you to re-evaluate if you are pursuing the right strategy, if you have the appropriate culture and if your structure helps you achieve what you set out to do. It is called ‘purpose’. When your purpose is clear, you can use it as guiding light in assessing strategy, structure and culture. Purpose provides the compass direction so that you can find the balance of strategy, structure and culture.

Purpose is in vogue and risks being oversold, or underutilized—it is often left unattended after it has been defined. Worse yet, purpose may turn out to be the compromise that everyone could live with but no one really wants to own and adhere to. Those box-ticking purposes are just ‘whitewashing’ and can become a hurdle that blocks you from making progress. The process of finding your organisation’s purpose is therefore a delicate one. But once you have it, you can effectively start to solve your chicken-egg problem.

Henry Mintzberg beautifully refined Chandler: “Structure follows strategy... as the left foot follows the right.” The balancing of strategy, culture and organisation is an ongoing process, the complexity of which can be enormously reduced by having a clear purpose that is widely believed and deeply engrained in your organisation. It will help you find and maintain the balance, it will provide clarity to everyone involved in or touched by your business and your strategic direction becomes self-evident.

Interested in finding your balance? Reach out to us at Betterpreneurs for support.

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