Frank McClung

Culture Shapes Strategy

Culture can significantly shape strategy creation and implementation.

You can see a stark example of how culture impacts strategy in the current situation in Afghanistan. As America’s collective patience in Afghanistan waned, it caused a significant shift in its military strategy with dire consequences (see the current evacuation effort). For most Americans (me included), 20 years of war in a country at a cost of over $2 trillion and 2448 U.S. service members killed signals more that enough patience for democracy to take root, a people to support a government, and a military to be able to be trained to defend their new way of life.

The Taliban had a different strategy. They understood our cultural bent toward “fast” solutions and nation building and just waited for us to leave their country. Why? Because 20 years in their cultural view was a brief period. For most Americans today, patience just isn’t our thing. Imagine how different the United States strategy could have been in Afghanistan if America’s leaders had truly understood the American people didn’t have the same strategic patience we’d shown toward South Korea or Japan over the last 70 plus years. Our footprint in Afghanistan would have likely been significantly limited in scope, time, and resources. Other world cultures (China!) view our strategic decisions as extremely shortsighted and impatient. We play the one-hundred-year game, they play the thousand-year-game.

I use the word culture to mean all the customary characteristics, knowledge, language, religion, attitudes, thinking patterns, beliefs, and social practices that distinguish you, your organization, your industry, and the people you identify with both past and present. This whole “culture” package continually influences strategy.

Most service-based organizations see no need for a website strategy. The cultural mindset is to hurriedly build a website during the startup phase, then create pages here and there, post random articles, update staff member’s bios, etc. with little context to their vision, mission, goals, or marketing. Once in a while, someone in leadership will visit the website and feel embarrassed by how “dated” it looks and ask the marketing person or their personal assistant to “freshen it up a bit” like an HGTV home redesign show. This often leads to shiny new websites that do little to support their organizational vision, mission, or goals.

Identifying cultural assumptions and bias that shape your organization’s website strategy isn’t easy. Often, you need someone from the outside to help you read the label on the jar. You might start by seeing to answer questions like these:

How did we get the website we currently have and why?
Who wanted it and when did they want it?
What role did the company founder play in the current website design and content and in what ways do they continue to influence the website design and content?
Who’s been maintaining the site and what are they hoping to accomplish?
What’s been driving the website content changes and additions to the website and why?
What limitations and constraints has your website been developed within and how did that impact your outcomes?

When I work with a client to build a website strategy, we work through several detailed questionnaires covering everything from organizational goals to branding to audience clarification before we even start examining website strategy. We uncover cultural aspects of not only their organization but also their service space that could inform and influence strategy. It’s tedious, hard work, but insightful.


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