Digital initiatives can easily rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in hard costs, claiming months of research, planning, and effort. Smart organizations understand the importance of articulating a waterproof foundational strategy for any such venture, backed by a rationale that is anchored in some higher grand business strategy. Yet any actual strategic thinking that gets done in the context of these investments is generally constricted to the planning stage, leaving a significant chunk of the process – the implementation phase – untouched. However, strategy shouldn’t end when the planning docs are signed and delivered; it should be deeply embedded in technical implementation and tactical execution. Read more
In my previous piece I wrote about how important it is for organizations to have both a clearly articulated strategy and a culture that guides and pulls them in the right direction, using Bonobos as an example of a business that has gotten this right. As some of the comments I received hinted at, there is much to discuss about the nuances of what characterizes a successful alignment of culture and strategy, and the implications of choosing a balance.
At a high level, we can agree that, as Hayles pointed out in a comment, “leadership sets direction and tone, then smart people plan and execute great work”. Continuing to think about these things, in this piece I offer some illustrations about what the relationship between culture and strategy, at the most basic level, might look like. These preliminary diagrams might move this conversation forward by visualizing where and how the two exist within an organization.
On Cyber Monday 2011, Bonobos experienced an epic fail. Generous discounts on luxury men’s clothing drove extreme volumes of traffic to the site, slowing down load times and transactions, and preventing some customers from completing their orders. What happened next is a case study in flawless damage control and best-case customer service – Bonobos’ entire tech team pitched in and worked tirelessly for days alongside a crack-team from the site’s e-commerce vendor to get the site back up and running.
Meanwhile, the rest of the company stopped operations to focus on upset customers. Even CEO Andy Dunn pitched in, coordinating efforts, keeping morale high, and taking customer phone calls late into the night. It was an all hands on deck effort that Bonobos, despite financial losses, views as a positive learning experience.
Was this the result of some brilliantly devised strategy? Or can Bonobos’ success during the Cyber Monday crisis be traced back to its culture?
The predominant model for managing digital products and services today could be aptly described as “command and control.” Annual planning and top down decision-making structures are the rule rather than the exception. As a result, large groups of people move slowly in lockstep toward a shared vision, while startups run circles around them. It’s an approach I’ve been loosely referring to as “redcoat digital.”