Daily management

20 August 2018

A successful strategy is at the core

Peter Rosseel

Managing Director of Management Consulting and Research, a spin-off of the University of Leuven

A few weeks ago the Belgian team lost to the French in the semi-final of the World Cup. There are numerous lessons you can draw from (Belgian) football that you can also apply to your organisation and that are essential to achieving success.

This was the opportunity for Belgium, as the Red Devils had never reached a final. And according to Peter Rosseel, Managing Director at Management Consulting and Research, they probably never will.

But before you get angry, he would like to explain why: it comes down to culture. There are numerous lessons you can draw from (Belgian) football that you can also apply to your organisation and that are essential to achieving success. And you will discover them in this article.

Lesson 1: Success starts with an unconditional trust in and by the management team
"The players were all focussed on the matches rather than on group politics and personal gain"

For the first time in Belgian history no one felt the need to leak information to the press. The players were all focussed on the matches rather than on group politics and personal gain. This sort of mentality requires trust within the management team (the coach and his staff), but that's not sufficient on its own. The management team must also trust the entire organisation and therefore the players as well, thereby earning their trust. And that is precisely what coach Martinez and his staff have done with the help of a clear strategy and the patience to implement that strategy (= strategic implementation plan).


The strategic implementation plan had no place for individualism and personal whims. This helps to explain why coach Martinez left “enfant terrible” Radja Nainggolan (former AS Roma player) out of the squad. In turn, this environment of trust made it possible to develop from strategy to strategy implementation.

So it works both ways: strategy and implementation plan <--> environment of trust.

Lesson 2: Strategy is necessary but is not sufficient on its own

Strategy is necessary but is not sufficient on its own Strategy is the theory, implementation is the practice. Developing and communicating a strategy is not that difficult. It involves instiling information and therefore the strategy ‘in one’s mind’. This is necessary but does not always lead to engagement. Engagement involves the relational side of an organisation, and that goes hand in hand with empowerment.

Does the management team believe in the strategy; is the strategy ‘at the core’? A well-managed engagement and empowerment leads to true accountability.


When one works towards the implementation of the strategy:

1) the members of the management team would first have to put on their company hat (company culture) and then afterwards their job hat.

2) the information provision part may take up around 30% of their time and the engagement and empowerment part around 70%.

3) a good balance between a rational approach (the strategy) and the relational part (the implementation of the strategy) is of crucial importance. 

Lesson 3: Culture; there's no escaping it
"The success of a strategy and its implementation depend on whether the culture can be improved"

Unless we change our behaviour as Belgians, it is very unlikely that we will ever reach the final. And culture is the reason why. Culture is the sum of the behaviours of all the individuals within an organisation. Behaviour and attitude are based on mental frameworks. Mental frameworks consist of convictions, values, experience and emotions.

The success of a strategy and its implementation depend on whether the culture can be improved. It is precisely because this is so difficult that we call it “transformation” and this is different from change. Change involves a better strategy and structure, better systems and processes. Cultural transformation is all to do with the relational side of an organisation.

In order to make cultural transformation possible, people have to believe that this transformation is absolutely necessary (mental framework). How one convinces others varies according to their interests and job. As a manager it’s therefore important to gear that message as well as possible to the target public and support them where possible. Successful didactic methods balance both the relational and the rational sides of transformation.

How can culture then be held responsible for the fact that Belgium will not win the European Championship or the World Cup, unless we Belgians change our behaviour?

The short answer is that our national football team is part of the broader Belgian culture. And we Belgians are very good at making compromises. The intention of our model is good – justice, mutual respect and equality – but in practice this often comes down to turning a blind eye to problems and therefore a lack of (political) courage. And it is exactly that lack of perseverance, tenacity and doggedness that also held back the Red Devils in the semi-final. Perhaps we played too cleanly?

Lesson 4: Trust in the entire organisation

The top players don’t always play at their very best. That was certainly the case in the World Cup. Just look at the examples of the Argentinian Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and the Brazilian star player Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain - PSG). A team should therefore never rely on stars, as other players are crucial for the smooth functioning of the team.  Red Devil Thomas Meunier (PSG) - a good player - was worth his weight in gold for the Belgian team during the World Cup.


It is essential that there are sufficient people with high potential in the talent pipeline of an organisation. But other workers also deserve the attention, support and respect of the management. They may not be essential talents, but are certainly necessary for an organisation to successfully implement its strategy.  It is not only the players on the football field that win a match. There are also the colleagues on the bench, the staff at home, the players in the regular competition, the supporters; all our fellow countrymen. 

Conclusion
"Cultural transformation is not the consequence of but an important condition for the success of a strategy"

At the core of an organisation you will find the golden triangle: vision, leadership and culture. Leadership lies at the centre of the triangle because the management team not only defines the strategy and the strategic plan, but also engages the organisation. The second - and equally important - responsibility of the management team is to define the present culture in line with the favourite future.

It is important to realise that cultural transformation is not the consequence of but an important condition for the success of a strategy. That's why the focus of the leadership and the interventions of the higher management in guiding the cultural transformation is just as important as dealing with the change that is necessary to carry out the strategy. 

Peter Rosseel is Managing Director of Management Consulting and Research, a spin-off of the University of Leuven. He is also guest professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium. He lectures on digital transformation, academic entrepreneurship, strategic development, diversity management, leadership, team development, intercultural growth, change management and performance management. In his function as guest professor at the University of Leuven he carries out research and develops education projects for the European Commission and the Flemish government, which have appeared in various publications