How to find a balance between culture and strategy

In my previous post on the subject of culture and strategy, I described how and why they compete for dominance in many organisations, especially charities. Taking this forward, this article looks at why we need to align them.

How to find a balance between culture and strategy

The key to balance is discovering if the existing culture is going to readily enable the strategy or not. Unless the strategy is written from the result of discussions and feedback across the entire workforce, it is likely that it will involve certain actions that are not considered universal priorities. This could therefore be of disinterest to some of the key stakeholders and negatively impact the success of the strategy.

The following considerations serve as a guide to design an inclusive strategy that leaves less room for a strong culture to jeopardise the success of a transformational project:

  • Align strategy with values – if each action of the strategy can lead to an outcome that is directly linked to the mission and vision, the importance of the task will be clearer, which, in turn, will increase motivation and participation within the team.
  • Set realistic targets based on known skills and behaviours – if the team does not have the capacity or skill set for project work, there will be resistance, which could cause delays, or scope and budget changes. It could be worth opting for a hands-off approach or looking to outsource this role.
  • Undertake an honest analysis and criticism of your culture before taking on a new direction to see if the current strategic approach will be possible within the remit of the culture – if the answer is no, it will be easier to adapt the approach of your strategy than to try and fight against an uncooperative culture.
  • Do not assume that a (good) strategy alone can fix holes in a (bad) culture – it may be that complementary workshops and training are needed to address aspects of the culture that the organisation wants to move away from.

Giving strategy a seat at the breakfast table

In summary, Drucker’s theory should not serve as a reason not to embark on a new project or introduce a strategy refresh. It should however serve as a reminder that when creating a strategic roadmap, the power and influence of the organisation’s culture should not be underestimated or overlooked. After all, Drucker also said that “change is the norm; unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization will not survive”; reminding us that change and transformation are essential to the success of the organisation, and that by letting the fear of a culture vs strategy face-off prevent leading change, it will also prevent all of the new opportunities that come with change.


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Does culture always eat strategy for breakfast, or is there room for both at the table?

Management Consultant and author Peter Drucker coined the expression: ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ to illustrate that the realisation of strategic goals will be hindered if the culture of the team does not support them. This theory has sparked debate across all sectors but is particularly relevant to the charity sector where organisations often have a very strong and united culture heavily influenced by their mission and vision.

Why charitable organisations have especially strong cultures

Individuals tend to be attracted to work in the charity sector due to an affiliation with or belief in a certain cause, and therefore many charities are made up of teams of people with similar opinions and priorities. When a group of likeminded people are working in the same place, a culture is therefore borne out of the unspoken behaviours, mindsets, and social patterns that these individuals share. To illustrate, it is unlikely that a person who hates animals would choose to work in a donkey rescue shelter. Far from it, it can be assumed that the team would be made up of people who love and care for donkeys, and would put their comfort and wellbeing ahead of other responsibilities within their job description, such as reaching strategic targets and goals. Thus, a shared culture of ‘operate first, innovate later’ is born.

Why strong cultures can often be disabling

There is no doubt that a shared culture is an asset to an organisation and leads to effective execution of tasks that the team actively regards as important. However, it often results in mutual disregard or disinterest in tasks regarded as of lesser direct importance to the cause. In the case of our donkey rescue shelter, the team is united in working towards the outcome that donkeys receive the care that they need, but reflective and analytical tasks – perceived as inactive or indirect in meeting the needs of the cause – are often left to one side. Thus, if a strategy were to be introduced, requiring all members of the team to complete actions such as: data audits, user testing, and participation in discovery workshops, this shared culture of prioritising operation (basic function) over innovation (how to more fulfil the function more effectively) could easily become a roadblock. That is to say, it could result in a team of culturally aligned individuals who are misaligned with the wider strategic vision.

Why we need bring culture and strategy together

This by no means suggests that there is no room for strategy in the charity and third sectors. In fact, one could argue that a charitable organisation with a strong cultural alignment has the ideal conditions to host a transformational project, as the shared culture could be used to increase the chance of success when confronting change or challenges.

Why? The combination of a team with invested interests in the triumph of a project, with accountability on an individual level and teamwork to support each other in meeting the criteria for success, leads to faster and better decision making, no competing priorities, less possibility for scope change and less possibility for the project to derail.

Hence, strategy and culture can be compatible concepts, with the former providing a logic and plan to achieve the goals, and the latter providing the will, enthusiasm, and longevity of results.

In my next post on this topic I’ll cover “How to find a balance between culture and strategy ”


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Is a digital strategy a thing of the past?

At Hart Square, we have a lot of conversations around digital strategy and digital transformation with clients across the NFP sector. As organisations continue to rapidly evolve their thinking in this area, one question keeps coming up again and again; is having a digital strategy an organisational necessity or should digital simply be integrated into wider organisational strategies?

For years, charities and NFP organisations have been trying to increase their digital capacity with increasing focus on developing more web-based offerings and harnessing new technology to raise more funds, engage more deeply with their audiences and collect higher quality data. But when asked in the Charity Digital study, conducted by Zoe Amar in 2019, 67% said that they still want to use digital to increase their impact. This would suggest that digital is still not ingrained in the culture and strategies of these organisations.

This is also something that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been looking at, concluding that,

Transformation should be the focus not technology, technology enables an organisation to change and enhance strategies.

But how does this translate into practice? What would your organisation need to make lasting transformation happen? How do you focus on transformation without technology being your focus?

A critical factor here is that behind any change, there needs to be a focus on how this would integrate with your organisations’ overarching strategy and vision. When you know what you want to achieve and what benefit it will bring to the organisation, you can then start to look at what tools, resources and skills are needed to make it happen.

Equally key will be ensuring that there is enough digital leadership within the organisation. As with delivering on any strategy, everyone will need to buy into this transformation, understanding its impact and their part in making it happen. This will naturally need leadership at all levels of your organisation, something that not everyone feels they have.

To quote the 2019 Charity Digital study, 58% of respondents said their charities have fair to low skills in digital leadership.

With digital now permeating across everyday business as usual activity, it’s more important than ever to ask yourself how digital transformation can support the vision and aims of your organisation. Digital should be a key pillar of any organisational strategy, front of mind when looking at how to achieve your aims, whether that is in supporter engagement, delivering services or growing impact.

Digital and technology will continue to be omnipresent across the sector and leaders will need to adapt to ensure that they are able to leverage the full value of organisation-wide digital transformation.

Interested in leading digital thinking and best practice? Join us for chase.livestream from September 8th to 10th for more great insight. Register for free at

How can charities and NFP’s benefit from a brand management solution?

An organisations brand is an essential component to drive a consistent message, build trust and ultimately engage build loyalty with employees, supporters, fundraisers, donors and the general public.

It’s important to remember that a brand management solution isn’t just about a piece of technology. The online platform is just one component part that makes up the entire brand management solution. Implementing the right strategy has countless benefits. We’ve highlighted what we consider to be the most important.

1. Access

Making your brand accessible via a cloud based platform has never been easier and more essential. Most Software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms can be integrated with your existing IT ecosystem via Single sign-on (SSO) reducing friction for employees. The platform never sleeps providing 24/7 access to the brand from anywhere even if employees are working remotely. Tailoring access based on roles and privileges adds control at a central level.

2. Consistency

Brand consistency is a fundamental principle and something increasingly difficult to manage with the ever increasing number of channels available. It can also become difficult where an organisation is spread geographically nationwide or even globally. By implementing and end-to-end brand management solution you can drive brand compliance across every touch point. This could be educating your users on tone of voice via the interactive brand guidelines, using templates for digital file formats such as social media graphics or even defining paper weights and print finishing for the more traditional brand assets such as leaflets, posters and other printed collateral.

3. Empowerment

Time, effort and money is put in to developing a successful brand and ensuring that your staff feel empowered to use it is essential. Not only will they feel more connected to the brand, but the brand will also become more productive. Providing your teams access to brand assets to use, but also creating their own assets puts the power back in their hands. Pre-agreed templates can be created to allow editing and localisation. All this can be done in the browser with no additional software or training. Even better, you can keep complete control centrally by defining the editable content, but also adding approval workflows to check every template that’s created. An added benefit to this is the time and cost saving on your own design studio or the agencies you might be using.

4. Centralisation

Extending the brand management solution outside of an online environment has exponential benefits across the whole organisation. By using a platform to drive print on demand, stock print ordering and even merchandise fulfilment can drastically improve your ability to distribute items to branches and geographic offices. It removes the burden on your internal teams and provides the power of ordering back to your teams. By using one central source costs can be set and managed, budgets can be controlled and accountability managed. By utilising an online platform to manage this you can use a multi supplier network and automate workflow for budget and order approvals and streamline the support directly to your teams. SLA’s can be set and managed to ensure you retain speed to market. Procuring, ordering and managing physical marketing material has never been easier.

5. Visibility

By using a brand management solution you gain access to valuable insight into every interaction with the brand. Who’s’ using it, what’s being downloaded, what’s being created and what people are ordering. This visibility will help drive decisions when creating and refining brand assets, help forecast for the future when ordering print or merchandise, identify training or engagement opportunities with staff. Complicated financial reconciliation will become a thing of the past with complete 360 degree feedback on every transaction, payment, budget and stock movement. All this data can be consumed via dedicated reporting dashboards meaning it’s available in real-time 24/7.

Using a brand management solution to protect and implement your brand dramatically reduces the challenges surrounding budget, time and resource management and will ultimately ensure your brand stays consistent, visible and successful.

To find out more about how Brand iQ can help you to implement your brand contact Marcel van den Boogaard.

CRM Strategy: People

No matter what approach you take to CRM and a strategy around it, it’s clear that people are at the very heart of it. CRM is about relationships between people and strategy is defined, designed and executed by people. Not always the same people but people nonetheless.

Even now with artificial intelligence and machine learning at the top of many agendas, for us and our not-for-profit clients, technology is at its best when it’s combined with humans.

When it comes to creating a CRM strategy it’s vital that the people who put it together invest in stepping out of their current role to consider their organisation as a whole, what it wants to achieve and who will be the measure of its success.

For our not-for-profit clients, the absolute focus of their work is on members, supporters, donors, students, visitors and beneficiaries. Whilst their CRM strategy may be centred on how their organisation can develop lasting relationships with these audiences, it comes down to how to create a connection between people.

Having developed a strategy, it is then down to people to implement it. In all probability, there will be an element of improved use of technology. That may be about getting more from current systems, implementing new solutions, or just connecting the existing ones, again it comes back to technology enabling people to do different things or to do things differently.

One of the mantras of digital transformation within not-for-profits is, or should be, “automate the information to make time for the conversation” because we know that to be at its best an organisation deploys technology to support people, to enable them to be their best, to give them time to have human interactions with other people.

As I read elsewhere recently, people are not only the cause of many of the problems we face, we are most certainly the likely candidates to provide the solutions.

If our pie was a homemade bake then people would be the filling, at the very centre.

CRM Strategy: Communication

For a CRM Strategy to succeed it takes a lot of people to have a clear understanding of the strategy, its purpose and their role in delivering it. Being able to clearly communicate the strategy itself to a wide range of audiences plays a significant role in the strategy’s success.

The strategy will need to be communicatied in person, to large groups, to small teams and to specific individuals. It will also need to be shared in writing, probably in long-form for those who need to see substance and detail, by email to those who want to see headlines and summaries, and then potentially via a number of different digital channels.

With this challenge to face it’s appropriate to use specialists to put in place a full communications plan, to develop clear and specific messaging for each audience and each channel, and potentially for each strand of the strategy. This will help to ensure that the core messages are agreed and prioritised in a consistent manner, and that more detailed information is available to support all of the headlines and themes used across the piece.

The final point to remember is that communication in terms of a CRM Strategy is not about a one-way transmission of ideas and actions, it needs to be bi-directional; those defining and describing the strategy have to be receptive to every comment, challenge, critique and piece of feedback available to them. Every response, whether positive or negative, is valuable; what’s more it needs to be seen to be valued, and this is delivered by responding to it, publicly, so that at a minimum everyone who heard or was party to the feedback gets to hear and see the response.

Achieving this level of two-way communiction will underpin buy-in and support from everyone who has a part to play in successful delivery of the strategy, and from a lot of other people too!

CRM Strategy: Vision

One clear distinction between tactical, operational planning and the development of a Strategy is to be found within the need for a Strategy to contain a Vision. The Vision lifts you from the tactical to the strategic and is driven by what you want to accomplish.

Vision speaks to what an organisation wants to become, where it’s aspirations lie and it needs to meets various standards. As Miller & Dess stated, a Vision is defined as a “category of intentions that are broad, all-inclusive and forward thinking”.

It has to be challenging and ambitious enough to be inspirational, to take you above daily and operational issues, and to reveal a true determination to shape the essential characteristics of your organisation

It has to be realistic enough to offer a genuine prospect of success, flexible enough to not be undermined by slow progress or early shortfalls.

It has to be tangible enough to be able to be achieved and updated in the future, but it has to be future-proofed enough to expect to have a life expectancy of five years or more.

It has to be optimistic to paint a picture of a successful future

As shown above, Strategic Vision is a statement of purpose, which provides guidance and inspiration to staff, members, supporters and everyone involved. It sets a tone for them to understand the importance of the strategy and provides an ambition for them to buy in to.

In action, the Vision sets a marker for activities to be related to and for success to be measured against.

The Vision itself demonstrates executive commitment to a particular direction, and can therefore be used to develop momentum for change. Where tactics and plans may have more obvious tangible outcomes, the inclusion of Vision within a CRM Strategy is key to elevating the perception of what you’re setting out to achieve.