#11 Case Study: Leadership eats culture for dinner

13 June 2019 | 3 min read


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, the famous slogan of the successful Management Instructor Peter Ducker, already quoted in a previous article, reminds us that you cannot implement a strategy without considering organisational culture. However, in a modification of Peter Ducker’s well-known saying one can also say: Leadership eats culture for dinner. The following case study illustrates this:

In this organisational development process with 3,000 employees, I worked with the management team. Management and employees were part of a large corporation and worked in two different countries. The organisation was restructured in order to achieve synergy. Processes were no longer broken down by country but organised transnationally by function.  The organization’s desire was to function such that nationality no longer played a role and that tasks were “integrated”. 

After almost a year, the management called me in as a consultant. They were surprised that their employees did not yet live “integration” in the way they desired. They had worked on the organisational chart for a very long time so that the structure would be meaningful and there would be no unnecessary redundancies. They had redistributed roles and responsibilities and reduced personnel in a socially responsible manner. They had conducted workshops to bring the teams closer together. They had communicated extensively about the strategy and yet they were not satisfied. After various discussions and my evaluation, the following became apparent:

  1. The managers of one country wanted to know from me what the managers of the other country thought and vice versa. This told me that the management itself had not yet said goodbye in their head to the division of countries. My hypothesis was that the individual managers themselves had not yet fully bought into the “integration” in the way that they expected from their employees, even though the mood in management was good and there were no obvious conflicts. Passion for the restructuring was as unevenly distributed among management as among the employees.
  2. We looked at the management team for clues as to whether the country split into the teams might have been unintentionally strengthened in recent months, thereby unconsciously slowing down the integration process. The managers quickly realised what role their own mental attitude had played in the process. This moment of realisation had a strong impact on the team.
  3. We then asked each member of the management team to estimate what percentage of completion they had already achieved in the integration. The range was very wide with estimates from 30% to 70%. A closer analysis revealed that everyone in management not only had a different perception of the starting position, depending on which area he/she was responsible for, but that the objectives were unclear for most of them. Each had a different idea of what the 100% meant. And the question “what is a satisfactory result?” was simply never asked. In the end, it became clear that a lot had been achieved in the area of “integration”, but they had failed to agree on the goal! This brought a sense of satisfaction to the progress that had already been achieved.
  4. The disagreement then prevailed over how to measure integration.  What behavioral changes were expected from the employees after the restructuring?
  5. There was one point on which everyone agreed; there had always been and continued to be, competition between the employees located in different companies related to their individual cultural characteristics.   This competition, which had previously taken place discreetly between countries, had found its way into the teams. And because they had forgotten to agree on a code of conduct for integration, there was a lack of common awareness of the new non-negotiable behaviors.
  6. Finally, it turned out that there was no real budget for “integration”. No one had thought of it. This affected, among other things, field travel because business trips at the team leader level had not been as important under the old structure. It quickly became clear to all involved that this cost-cutting measure was more likely to inhibit integration than to support it during the critical phase of integration.

Following these findings and corresponding decisions, management was then able to act. The reflection loop that the management team participated in and courageously faced is a typical organisational development loop. Doing this is a matter of reassembling oneself after a certain period of operational implementation in order to collect observations without judgment and to look for the causes of identified phenomena. The goal is to find constructive solutions that fit into the development phase the organisation is in. How often do you do that?

Golden Management Rule

There’s always a reason why things don’t go the way management wants them to in an organisation. If it is not immediately apparent where the problem lies, it is often due to subconscious processes or culture. Step back a bit and get to the bottom of the matter. Treat people with respect and observe them attentively, ask questions and listen to what they have to say and you will find the reason. Then, you can work out a solution together. You don’t have to know everything.

You find more advice in my Corporate Coaching!


Written by Drissia Schroeder-Hohenwarth

Transformative Coach for Leaders, Teams and Organisations with a fascination for the endless potential of the mind.

More articles from Drissia