Bill Scheessele


Does culture trump strategy? You bet

Since the sequestration went into effect, business development executives have seen their pipelines stagnate and margins slip. Meanwhile, they face delayed awards and ferocious competition for task order contracts and re-competes.

Many federal sectors can no longer support all of the existing players, and a number of organizations will not survive in this new environment. It is clear that a change is needed, but the question remains – what should an organization change?

BD executives frequently talk about retooling their strategy. However, this approach will only take an organization so far. In order to affect real – and lasting – change, an organization must simultaneously address its strategy and its culture.


Click here for a whitepaper exploring why culture is the catalyst empowering revenue growth.

Culture is the collective attitudes, feelings, and values that drive behavior within a BD organization. By driving behavior, culture has a direct effect on revenue growth, and outmaneuvers strategy alone every time. Business development executives who do not address culture experience “déjà vu all over again” – that is, they repeatedly churn through a series of strategic plans, but come no closer to elevating their probability of win.

How Will Culture Change Benefit My Organization?

Some organizations have transformed their culture by encouraging BD personnel to adopt a more independent, proactive approach. These personnel have learned to work “upstream, left of capture” by embracing a methodology that directs their customer-facing activities early in the process. This process allows business development executives to carefully identify and qualify opportunities pre-RFP release, which results in a significant return on investment.

Is it really necessary for an organization to change its way of thinking?

The first requisite for culture change is to address the “group-think” of the organization from top to bottom – with no exceptions. In reality, this process is neither fast nor easy.

Alan Murray, current president of the Pew Research Center, shares this piece of wisdom in The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management.

"As a manager, you may have the power to change your organization’s policies with the stroke of a pen. And you may have the ability to hire, fire, promote, and demote people with relatively little effort.

"But changing an entrenched culture is the toughest task you will face. To do so, you must win the hearts and minds of the people you work with, and that takes both cunning and persuasion."

Most people have an inherent desire to rationalize that their own behavior is appropriate, particularly if they have served successfully in a business development role in the past. And, as you might imagine, they are also likely to believe that someone else needs to change. For this reason, everyone in the organization must embrace the process of de-rationalization when it comes to developing the new business model and adopt the thinking and behavior which accompanies it.

Won’t new personnel bring a new culture with them?

You might think the quickest way to affect a business growth culture is to make personnel changes. After all, new personnel with the right beliefs and experience will change the culture… won’t they?

Regrettably, no matter what stellar “track record” new leadership and business development professionals boast on their resumes, their past experience in achieving revenue growth was likely based upon culture, thinking, and processes that were suitable for the prior gushing environment, which is long gone.

Without this culture change, you may find yourself switching out faces and spaces again in a year and be further behind your peers in revenue growth.

What does this new culture look like?

Business development organizations that have successfully changed both their strategy and their culture share many of the same attributes, including:

  • Strong leaders who embraced the need for change and took an active role during its implementation.
  • Personnel who were trained and encouraged to be independent and proactive, rather than continuing to use the same outdated, reactive behaviors.
  • BD processes that focus upstream with early customer engagement, rather than downstream as in an outdated, traditional capture model.
  • A healthy pipeline that contains only validated opportunities (because unsuitable prospects were disqualified early in the process).

A successful turn-around team consists of empowered, committed insiders that support the effort to change the organization’s culture. But what if a leader does not understand why or how the change should take place?

When that happens, an external resource can act as a trusted advisor by providing business development leadership with the necessary training, tools, and guidance throughout the culture change process. An insider to the organization would struggle with this role because there is too much risk involved, whereas an external resource can act as a change agent from the outside.

Before you change your BD strategy yet again, consider the role culture plays within your own organization.

Would your personnel benefit from learning how to take on a more proactive, independent approach? Is it time to revise outdated processes that were created for the pre-sequestration environment? If so, look for an external partner who can offer firsthand knowledge on how to transform the culture of your organization and advance your campaign to win the hearts and minds of your BD team.

Do that and you’ll win business, drive growth, and generate greater revenue.

About the Author

Bill Scheessele is the CEO of MBDi, a global business development services firm providing expertise in Business Development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. The firm offers BD consulting services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals and teams identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their new virtual training options at or 704.553.0000.

Reader Comments

Fri, Sep 20, 2013

Bill- Nice article. We shall seriously and patiently make efforts towards cultural change even if it could take long time. I would add leadership plays a big part of that change and sometimes does require change at the top levels to make change smoother.

Fri, Sep 20, 2013 Joseph Nowoslawski

Excellent points. The sooner the change in environment is acknowledged the sooner success can be obtained. The sad thing is most people refuse to believe changes are occurring.

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