Leveraging Culture to Drive Strategy and Change


An organization’s culture is comprised of values, beliefs, and behavior. A strong culture accepts different ideas, recognizes that people do not give 100 percent when they are not 100 percent comfortable, and adapts respect and flexibility for difference in working styles. Too “touchy-feely” for you? You want more strategy, you say? What if I told you that culture is critical to maintain and sustain a competitive advantage or that a strong culture eases periods of organizational change? Acknowledging, understanding, and creating a strong culture lays the foundation for organizational success and serves as a basis for an effective strategy.

thCACN1MG7Strategy and Culture: Linking the Two

Max McKeown, author on culture and change, says, “Culture strategy is usually only useful if you get people engaged in helping you make it work.” Though often discounted as a soft, nice-to-have component, culture is the people-focused, emotional, and historical element of every organization. It is an element that takes a market/mission-focused, logical, and futuristic strategy to the next level. While leaders set the cultural tone for an organization, all supervisors and employees impact organizational culture.

Organizational culture is powerful. A culture aligned with strategy enhances employee performance and customer satisfaction. At Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) our culture is tied directly to our Commander’s Guidance and is incorporated into our strategic planning.

Inclusion as a Line of Effort

Our culture strategy includes collaboration, engagement, innovation, and inclusion of our people at all levels. Inclusion is about cultivating a culture throughout the enterprise that connects each employee to the organization; ensuring our people know what they bring to the fight.thCA3BAGLE

Inclusion is not simply inclusiveness of diversity as we have known it for decades as based on demographics; but rather it is about understanding that people’s experiences, background, and education all factor into creating an innovative and inclusive culture. The richness of a community that reflects ethnic, geographic, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, religious diversity, and diversity of thought is vital to both the growth of our community and the critical thinking demanded of our global society. We value the contributions of employees from different backgrounds and seek to engage each individual around the Navy’s core values: honor, courage, and commitment.

thCA0RI9OLInclusion begins the second we make contact with an employee. How we recruit, on-board, develop, and retain our personnel matters. This is an area that leaders across the enterprise share. Understanding your organization’s recruiting, on-boarding, and developing processes help you best to retain the right people in the right positions. Creating an inclusive culture means ensuring each employee welcomes new ideas, and is given opportunities to be a voice at the table. Rear Adm. Yuen says, “Good ideas come from everywhere—not anywhere—but everywhere!” Listen to those ideas and most, importantly, create a culture where those ideas are welcome and are not dismissed.

Feedback Matters!

Across the Department of Defense, myriad surveys are at your disposal to gain a better understanding of your workforce. Surveys like the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Defense Organizational Climate Survey, Organizational Assessment Survey, or command exit surveys provide an excellent example of how to obtain feedback from your employees.

While culture is not defined by a survey, surveys serve as great tools to collect information about your organizational climate.

thCATPTU0IDriving honest conversations from culture data gathered from surveys leads to thoughtful actions, improved processes and environment, and enhanced employee performance and retention. But surveys are only a positive impact if we act.

Now what?

Ensure the time taken to complete those surveys goes to good use:

  • Listen. Listen to what employees say when they respond to a survey. Create breakout groups that analyze and provide working proposals for areas that the surveys show are less than optimal. For example, if your awards process gets negative results, create a breakout group to address it.
  • Act. Implement quick wins. Did your breakout group make suggestions that are easy to implement? What are you waiting for? Taking immediate action shows your people that you are listening to their ideas and are willing to go the distance to get the job done right.
  • Communicate. Communicate your actions and which ideas work and why. If something doesn’t work, communicate that as well. Building a strong organizational culture and fostering a culture of inclusiveness is everyone’s responsibility. Creating a positive culture and aligning our organizational culture with our corporate strategy is challenging but imperative, despite many internal and external forces such as cyber security and budget implementations. In an increasingly changing world, culture sets the tone for success. We must ensure we optimize our processes and our environment to secure a positive and inclusive culture. Invest in the Navy’s greatest asset—your people. Let’s bring together a diverse group of individuals and ensure each employee has a voice in the workplace, ashore, at sea, and in each of our future communities.

January/February 2016