Culture eats strategy, but…

A key part of my new job is vision and strategy development and then aligning our roadmap to that strategy. Right now, there’s a great vision, but there are gaps in the strategy that I need to address.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Peter Drucker

Within a few days of starting, this quote popped into my head (and then was repeated by the CITO just a week later, so now lots of us are thinking about it). The implication is that no matter how good your strategy is, culture is what determines success. I think this quote cuts a few different ways:

  1. Weak culture and weak strategy: high turnover and business is doomed to failure.
  2. Strong culture and weak strategy: stumbling along and surviving through heroic efforts and/or support of one another.
  3. Weak culture and strong strategy: culture still wins and will derail the strategy; you’ll go nowhere fast.
  4. Strong culture and strong strategy: you can achieve your vision.

Most businesses probably fall somewhere in the middle with decent culture and decent or weak strategy.

When creating a business strategy, I visually map it out in addition to writing some documents, but these last couple of weeks I started thinking more about a strategy for shifting culture. I have done some culture development work in the past, but I’ve approached it more in terms of team development and helping people just be better. My focus was on my direct reports and advocating for improvements in the wider organization.

Now, I’m exploring this ambitious vision and thinking through everything we need to achieve it, and we won’t be successful without the right people in the right places doing the right things in the right ways. You can accomplish some of that with good hiring practices and business planning, but success is going to require a culture that eats its Wheaties in addition to strategy.

So I’m creating a strategy to address culture too. This isn’t about fixing problems–rather, it’s about helping our teams and individuals to internalize for themselves what the right things are to do and the right ways to do them. And it’s about making sure I’m thinking holistically and systemically so that there aren’t any gaps in my own thinking about how to get from where we are to where we want to be.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, but I think that we can create a strategy to improve culture, and that’s what I intend to do.

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