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Strategy and Culture

Strategy Essentials

Having a clear business strategy is essential for sustained success in the IoT space.  But if the firm’s internal culture is at odds with that strategy, the company is going to struggle every single time.  As the tried and true saying goes – culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and during midnight snack time.

Many startup founders and C-levels types from bigger organizations have the regrettable habit of believing their vaunted rational thinking, and the strategic planning that flows from that intellectual noodling, will carry their company and its human talent logically into a bright and glorious future of unicorns and rainbows.

Of course, that is absolute horse manure.

Because for all of our considerable intellectual power and the application of that intellect, we humans make emotional decisions much of the time.  Take an executive who becomes overly attached to their “idea” even when metrics and potential customers show little interest or an IoT startup founder who “believes” their company’s approach is the only way.  On a personal level, walk around your home and look at all the products you own.  How many things were purchased for strictly rational reasons?  In truth, there is a lot of emotional content in our professional and personal lives.

The challenge is not in getting strategy to dominate culture, but to acknowledge and understand all of the invisible glue binding people together in organized settings – teams, business units, companies – and shape behavior in productive ways. 

In the technology space culture is given a lot of lip service, but quickly discounted until it bites back hard.  Whether the conversation revolves around topics of meritocracy and technical skill, or the “facts” of a situation, the assumption is there will always be a rational point of reference.

The most enduring organizations and their leaders are those who make an emotional connection with stakeholders first and then bind that connection with a values system and an operational plan that reinforces the strategic objectives of the firm. 

Direct and pragmatic ways to test for ingredients of success include:

  1. How do startup co-founders trust one another? 
  2. How do senior executives disagree?  Is it a zero sum game?
  3. How does a company tolerate failure and how does the firm reward people for it?
  4. How is success defined individually, in a team, and as a company?

After talking with more than a thousand technology professionals, the lack of strength among individual effort, team work, and superior company performance is impossible to ignore.  If a firm’s executives and stakeholders can provide a sense of direction on these questions, that is promising.  If they can articulate meaningful answers to these questions you have found a special organization.  One can always ask other questions, but, in my view, these start to get at the very heart of how firm cultures develop in the technology space and define their long-term success potential.