Reflecting on 2018: 6 Inspiring Ideas from Culture Gap

February 1, 2019

By Daniel Forrester

In THRUUE’s experience, an organization’s culture and strategy are inexorably linked. Often, when an organization fails to reach the business outcomes or impact it seeks, a gap between the organization’s strategy and culture is the reason.

Reflecting on 2018

6 Inspiring Ideas from Year One of Culture Gap,
a THRUUE podcast series

In THRUUE’s experience, an organization’s culture and strategy are inexorably linked. Often, when an organization fails to reach the business outcomes or impact it seeks, a gap between the organization’s strategy and culture is the reason. We are not alone in seeing this critical connection. In a 2018 PwC survey, 80% of the 2,000 respondents said their organization’s culture must evolve in the next five years for their company to succeed, grow, and retain the best people.

This link is all the more critical in our current climate of disruption, from digital transformation to the #MeToo movement and more. THRUUE CEO Daniel Forrester interviewed several CEOs for our “Culture Gap” podcast series to uncover how they have effectively managed disruption and closed the gap between the culture and strategy in their organization. We invite you to read, listen to, and share six insightful takeaways from these interviews.

Tim Kuppler
Director of Culture & Organziatinal Development at Human Synergistics

1. What is culture?
“Culture is the shared beliefs and values that can lead to behavioral norms and that drive the way people in organizations interact with each other and solve problems. But these beliefs and assumptions and things we value don’t always translate to the behavioral norms that are really the unwritten rules driving the organization. You have to understand that gap and those disconnects in order to address it with intent.”

Ginger Hardage
Former SVP of Culture & Communications
at Southwest Airlines

2. Why does culture matter?
“I could point to the success of Southwest Airlines. It’s the most profitable airline in the history of aviation. 45 years of consistent profitability. It has gained the largest number of customers served. I could point to the success of Southwest Airlines and the power of having a people-first culture there. How the turnover is so low, and employees are really able to grow within the organizations, and how the employees have truly contributed to the success of our organization… It’s not a spike, it’s the long-term sustainability and consistent profitability and incredible customer service… Your strategy is worthless unless you have your people behind it. Companies build their brand from the inside out.’”

Shal Jacobovitz
Former CEO of the American College of Cardiology

3. What is the job of a CEO?
“Number one is to drive culture, and make sure the organization is one that facilitates the best ideas, keeps the best people, and drives the organization in a direction that makes sense for the organization and its stakeholders.”

Carly Florina
Former CEO of HP and American Political Figure

4. What role does the board play
in culture?
“A board has to understand that a company is a system. Yes, maybe the board looks at an income statement, but that income statement is produced by a system. And that system is comprised of a strategy: there’s goals and purpose, there’s structures and processes, there’s results, there’s metrics, and there’s culture and behavior. If you care about the results of the company, you have to pay attention to all of those things.”

Stanley McChrystal
CEO of the McChrystal Group

5. What is leadership and what role do followers play in an organization’s success?
“Leadership is the practice of influencing people to do something they may not otherwise do… Mythologically, we think when an organization succeeds or fails, it’s what the leader did or did not do. We pay CEOs ridiculous amounts of money because we think they are the reason the organization wins or fails… what we have really learned is that the followers have a lot more responsibility in that then we have wanted to admit… If an organization fails, followers have to start by looking in the mirror.”

Mitchell Reiss
CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

6. What advice do you have for other CEOs trying to close the gap between culture and strategy?
“The advice I would give to other CEOs is two things: One is that every single institution is in a turnaround today. It doesn’t matter how successful you are—you have to be constantly thinking about reinventing yourself. Technology makes it so and social media demands it of us… The other piece of advice I would give is summed up by saying that change has no constituency. The people who benefit under the old ways are going to resist…And the people who will benefit from the change have yet to see it.”

As CEOs and boards look toward what they want to make happen this year and beyond, we urge you to reflect on your culture: How do and how must your employees think and behave to fulfill the strategic aspirations of your organization? How wide is the gap between your strategy and culture? What will you do to close it?