Culture as a Game-Changer for Strategy Execution

African Governments and organisations have developed and embraced brilliant corporate strategies to optimise on the continent’s immense growth opportunities, accelerate growth and transform us into a globally competitive continent. To this day, we as a continent still struggle to translate these plans into sustained competitive advantage and performance though successful implementation. Jorge Camarate, from Strategy & Partner, expressed that organisations in the African continent battle to develop strategies that are linked to execution, in most cases, these organisations disintegrate thoughts on strategy and execution. This is the very struggle that bemoans Africa and its strategies today, and if not addressed, will continue to be the future struggle.

It is often said that, Great Strategy Definition + Poor Strategy Execution = USELESS; Poor Strategy Definition + Great Strategy Execution = AIMLESS; Great Strategy Definition + Great Strategy Execution = SUCCESS.

The above suggests that a beautifully crafted corporate strategy is worthless if unable to get executed. A clear strategy is just a ticket to the game. It simply keeps an organisation’s eye on the ball in terms of strategic intent, its distinctive capabilities, and competitive advantage required to achieve the strategic intent. It allows leadership to harness the organisational ambitions; however something makes them successful… Strong Execution Capability.

By definition, Henry Mintzberg describes Strategy as “a pattern in a stream of decisions”. Following on this definition, it goes without saying that strategy execution involves enabling people to make choices in line with the decision pattern. This requires a big shift in the way we think. Based on this, it is quite evident that our mindsets and the way we think play a critical role in strategy execution… “Are our mindsets geared for execution!”

Execution is of paramount importance when addressing corporate strategies in Africa. Research conducted by Kaplan and Norton, revelead that 80% of corporate strategies fail to get executed. Strategy execution failure either implies that a properly crafted strategy was not implemented; alternatively, it could simply mean that strategy implementation yielded very poor results. Most organisations are struggling to close the gap between corporate strategy and its execution. Botswana is a case in point, where most of the corporate strategies are well-thought-out and articulated, sensible, futuristic, inspiring; however, fail dismally at the execution phase. The implementation of the previous country vision, Vision 2016, yielded low implementation results. The biggest challenge is weak implementation, and each executive attributes this to a different factor, ranging from unavailability of resources to implement, inadequate monitoring and reporting of the strategy; lack of commitment, accountability and ownership by senior management; low understanding of the strategy by lower level employees, resulting in organisational misalignment. This challenge is no unique to Botswana, but rather prevalent across the continent, if not the globe.

There are three critical success factors that have been identified for successful strategy execution, being Strategic alignment, Mindset and Capability. I am of the perspective that a shift in our mindsets will position us for success. To accelerate execution, employees need to be engaged and passionate about the strategy. This is greatly attributed to the prevailing culture within the organisation. Culture could be viewed as the organisation’s DNA—invisible to the naked eye, yet a powerful template that shapes what happens in the workplace. According to Hrebiniak (2005): “Culture elicits and reinforces certain behaviours within organisations. These behaviours, in turn, affect organisational performance in vital ways”. This positions culture as a focal point for strategy execution. The phrase “Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner”, by Peter Drucker, is an absolute reality. There is a direct correlation between culture and strategy success, and any organisation disconnecting the two puts the strategy success at risk. Crafting a corporate strategy without first ensuring that the cultural imperatives required to enable execution are present may possibly be a recipe for strategy execution failure. Building and sustaining an organizational culture that fosters a sense of personal accountability for strategy execution is key.

Defining and embedding a powerful and empowering culture is critical for success… a culture of energy, commitment and accountability, results-orientation, follow-though. In the absence of a culture that supports change and execution, realising the strategy becomes challenging.

For Africa to still be able to talk “strategy” in the coming future, organisations (both public & private) need to strengthen their strategy execution efforts. Successful organisations do not owe their successes to having strategies in place. In the absence of the right attitude, courage, urgency and energy for execution, we might as well forget about the future of corporate strategy in African Landscape.

In conclusion, culture is a game-changer for strategy execution. The solution to Africa’s execution woes will be driven by actively and deliberately inculcating the desired culture of being strategy focused. Leadership needs to be at the front of designing and shifting the desired culture that drives execution, and therefore the achievement of performance commitments.

Tshwanelo Nkwe is a Consultant at InnoLead Consulting offering Management Consultancy and Corporate Training Solutions. she can be contacted on +267 3909102 and