Why Social Movements Fade and How to Protect Your Business from the Same Fate
Remember Occupy Wall Street? How about Arab Spring? Like many social movements, each of these dominated the news for an extended period but ultimately lost steam. There are 127 social movements listed on the Wikipedia page. Several of the movements are still active, and some I have never heard of. Yet, I was struck by how many movements were once major headlines and now have faded away.
Why is it that so many social movements have a clear cause, receive tremendous publicity, attract thousands of passionate participants, and still fail to gain long-term traction? Is business falling short of potential because they are suffering from the same mistakes?
In many cases, having a clear cause is not enough to make a long-term, sustained impact. Most social movements attract people by their cause; however, once the media hype subsides, they have no foundation to move forward. They are typically motivated by something that they believe is wrong, but there is no clear focus on how to make things right or even what “right” is. Their cause is not connected to or supported by any organization or underlying system to realize a desired outcome.
The fundamental weaknesses of social movements are also prevalent in business. The chart below illustrates the connection between social movements and business. In social movements, there is typically a motivating cause, but the movement falls apart without organization and a systematic execution model. Similarly, in the business world many companies have a vision or mission, but the overall strategy or organization is not consistent with the culture. Further, the daily operations or execution model within the company are not tied to the strategy and culture.
If organizations and leaders are interested in realizing their potential and engaging their employees to pursue their potential, they will define, develop, and disseminate a unified culture, strategy, and execution system. Otherwise, the organization will fall short of its potential and lose momentum like social movements do.
This is even more relevant when there are external shocks to the system like COVID-19 or the Great Recession. Companies without a blended culture, strategy, and execution system are caught flat footed and unable to swiftly adapt to the changing environment. Employees become disengaged as they look for direction from the executive leadership team, rather than being part of the architect of adaptable change.
Every business has a culture, most have plans, and some have a solid internal communication platform. However, are each of these components—culture, strategy, and execution—synchronized? Was each component intentionally developed with the other in mind? Are they using the same words and language? Do the employees know their day-to-day contribution is strategically significant and aligns with a valuable cause?
Here is a summary of the three primary components of business and their integral connections:
Culture is the foundation of every organization. An effectively designed and implemented culture enables companies to align around a common cause. Creating an exceptional culture is more substantial than writing a mission statement. Organizations must not only define the organization’s cause, the cause needs to be supported by a statement of intention for the employees, customers, and community. Further, desired behaviors and habits will be identified. Once the culture is defined, it then needs to be cascaded throughout the organization with a systematic, reinforcement process.
Once the culture is defined and disseminated throughout the company, the organization’s strategy should be built to leverage and integrate with the culture. When companies fail to connect the strategy with the culture, it is likely the strategy will not succeed, and employees will resist the change necessary to move forward. A fully integrated or blended organization uses culture as the directional compass to build strategy.
The execution model within an organization uses the strategic platform as the foundation for driving interactions, meetings, and conversations. When execution is focused on the strategic actions and outcomes that enable an organization to pursue its potential, the culture is then solidified. When successful, the execution model reinforces the culture that drives the strategy.
When companies unify culture, strategy, and execution, they can realize their potential. However, many companies operate like social movements: they have a loosely defined cause in their vision or mission statement, but it is not supported by organization (strategy) or a systematic process (execution). If this is the case, employees look at their work as being just a job and do not see how their day-to-day activities contribute to something meaningful. The conscious effort to synchronize culture, strategy, and execution in organizations will engage employees in strategic, significant work and create a platform for long-term, sustained success.
Dan Bruder is the CEO of Fusion Dynamics Group, an Instructor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Instructor of Strategy and Leadership at Colorado State University. His new book is The Blendification® System: Activating Potential by Connecting Culture, Strategy, and Execution. Learn more at www.BlendificationSystem.com.