People as strategy

It was the late business management guru, Peter Drucker, who is attributed with saying that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ In spite of this poignant statement, it’s astounding how many organisations still soldier on with rigorous strategic planning and attempted implementation — without due consideration of the people component.

Beyond the cliché, people really do have a crucial role to play in successful strategy implementation, from the leadership role, through to the people actions and behaviours across the organisation.

The need for strategy

If I look around me at our present client base, it’s not surprising how many organisations are engaged in major strategic consideration and intended shifts, and often our role is to help activate this; it’s an exciting part of branding and one in which the internal brand effort has a significant and potentially vital contribution to make. From financial services organisations which are redefining the brand proposition and market positioning to ones which are driving fundamental organisational change in pursuit of an improved customer experience; necessitating quantum shifts in organisational design, governance and regulatory changes, with corresponding system reinventions. Needless to say, the human change requirements of these initiatives are seismic and, while organisational design, people or talent departments and learning and development units all gather around in unison to drive such change, key for a brand in this equation is to play a facilitating role in aligning the internal change with the external brand and reputational promise to market.

To make the point, pick on a few taglines of brands with whom you have engaged or experienced and ponder whether that experience meets the marketing proposition; all too often, the disconnect is sadly large.

It’s not always marketing

In the mining sector at the moment, it’s not necessarily about meeting shiny new slogans and catchy consumer promises. Strategy is premised on the need for real change in a sector that remains highly troubled between commodity pricing cycles and major political interference (if not blatant mining sector incompetence) before you even consider the challenge of a depleting natural resource. This business pressure warrants a major effort around efficiency and effectiveness of current operations, juxtaposed on the need to ‘uberise’ businesses and contemplate what the future looks like.

In some instances, this is driving exciting new initiatives around very diversified offerings and propositions, but this is terrifyingly difficult to ‘sell’ internally, let alone externally.

In an organisation with a deep history in mining as a core competency, the ability to shift into fundamentally different industry sectors requires a sizeable shift in mind-set, culture and human behaviour. Visionary and committed leadership is a superb start, as is commitment to the internalisation journey in order to help people see the future and align towards it. It is a long and arduous road but one that has begun, and the people dimension in enabling the realisation of a different future is a constant work in progress in which there will undoubtedly be many peaks and troughs.

Kubler Ross change curve

Developed by Elisabeth Kubler Ross in the 1960s as a model for terminally ill patients to handle the grieving process of coming to terms with their condition, organisational change experts adopted this change framework by the 1980s and it has become a firm fixture in the realm of organisational change initiatives.

Without a detailed discussion of the theories that underpin this curve, the underlying premise is that people have differing emotional need states during the change cycle; these can and should be effectively managed to enable the emotional and behavioural transition, helping people to understand their reactions to change and upheaval and preparing them for this.

In the virtually permanent state of disruption such as we face today, we are by extension in a state of ongoing change and, as the cliché suggests, ‘change is the only constant’. Helping people to cope, therefore, with the issues of change anxiety, shock, denial and fear of the unknown as they progress towards acceptance, integration and adoption is therefore a continuous requirement of leadership in business, and internal brand alignment has a role to play in aiding this and bridging some of the communication and culture change issues. In most instances, strategic shifts are accompanied by clear statements of a new desired culture in order to enable this, and we therefore need to be mindful of this on an ongoing basis.

Progress rather than perfection

Although hotly contested, it’s often suggested that an imperfect strategy, well-executed, is better that the perfect strategy, poorly executed. Given that we live in an imperfect and increasingly disruptive world, I am inclined to favour the former. The days of embellished strategic planning with long-range horizons are a thing of the past. Speed and agility are now the order of the day and people have a major role to play in achieving this. Even the late, great Pablo Picasso alluded to this when he said “what one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.”


  • “Picasso Speaks.” in The Arts, vol. 3, ed. Marius de Zayas, New York, May 1923. pp. 315-329.

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