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Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Strategy or culture: Which is more important?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, a phrase originated by Peter Drucker and made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford, is an absolute reality! Any company disconnecting the two are putting their success at risk.

However, while many studies show there is a direct correlation between a healthy, productive culture and a company’s bottom line, the majority of companies spend little time thinking, let alone doing anything about, this topic – even when they’re spending lots of time thinking about their business strategy.

Strategy, capabilities and culture need to be aligned

There is a powerful triumvirate in corporate transformations – Strategy, capabilities and culture. All three need to be designed together, aligned and enabling of each other to create true organisational transformation.

 

Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner

 

Strategy, capabilities and culture leadership is about a series of related choices about “where we going to play”, “how are we going to win and differentiate”, “what capabilities need to be in place to execute”, “what are the cultural imperatives to enable differentiation and execution”?

Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner so don’t leave it unattended

Given strategy is typically viewed from a 3-5 year time horizon and refreshed every few years, capabilities and culture also need to be reviewed at the same time and as one process.

This does not mean changing the values of the company, it means in the context of the strategy, business model, brand positioning … what capabilities are required and what are the critical few cultural capabilities required to enable and drive success?

How to cultivate organisational culture?

Corporate culture is a hard thing to get right. It’s a moving target that means something different to everyone. It grows and evolves over time and is the result of action and reaction. It is the lingering effect of every interaction. How to cultivate organisational culture?

 

Don’t forget culture when drafting corporate strategies

Culture change is complex and most efforts fail to meet expectations. This is in part because it is often approached separately from strategy and capabilities and becomes an “HR Thing”, and/or it is approached too broadly.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast … you can’t get any stronger message than that … unfortunately a message that is all too often forgotten when drafting corporate strategies.

 

The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything – Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. former CEO IBM

Strategy or culture

Maintaining cultural coherence across a companies portfolio should be an essential factor when determining a corporate strategy. No culture, however strong, can overcome poor choices when it comes to corporate strategy. The impact of culture on a companies success is only as good as its strategy is sound.

Don’t let culture eat strategy for breakfast. Have them feed each other.

 

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About the author
Torben Rick Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland

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About the author
Torben Rick Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland

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7 comments on “Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner

June 21, 2014 7:13 pm

Abbas Hosseinian

Dear All,

culture is more important than stragety since because via a logical cultgure there is no need to utilize stragegy and this I belive so one omportant rules can play everywhere by culture to receive necessary feedbacks.

Regards,

Abbas Hosseinian

July 25, 2014 8:00 am

reza ramezani

Dear All,

Strategy comes from creative, innovative and sometimes exprienced minds which is nominal in usual staffs and you need to import it thats why it is so important to much betwean strategy and cultuere

August 13, 2014 1:34 pm

Belinda Muriuki

an organization can have very smart great strategies on how to drive their business but fail to get executed because the organizational culture has not been addressed . By this i mean the people that form that organization. Most companies collapse because they have a people problem which is not taken into consideration when crafting strategies. Companies must derive their strategies based on organization structure and capability, otherwise inefficiency results. So culture is an important component to address in order to have effective execution of strategies

December 12, 2014 12:54 pm

William Holland

Love the work of Drucker. I am still waiting for someone to apply Drucker’s insights to our contemporary monetary, fiscal arrangements.

September 2, 2015 9:50 am

Chris

Hmmmm, if we take the view that culture is an emergent property, i.e. you cant touch it or change it directly, only by changing the things that cause it to emerge can it be changed. Then it is the thinking of management, how they approach the design and management of work, how they think about work, the method they use to understand and learn – or not….that drives the culture and yes your are right about strategy and lunch etc. Best place to find out what an organsisations strategy is – is at the frontline thats where real strategy and culture can be found.
Hils.

March 3, 2016 8:01 pm

Mary Lippitt

Mindsets are critical to strategy execution but we cannot assume that there is only one mindset. My research suggests there are six that underpin commitment. Addressing all six when we design our strategic communication plan is essential. Too often what we find enticing about the strategy is what we use to gain acceptance since it follows the Golden Rule of giving to others what you are looking for. Too often there is a discrepancy.

April 26, 2016 11:03 am

Otto Tass

(I came across this googling Drucker’s quote and liked the article very much)

I like the Pacman illustration, but it seems (for starters, bear with me) inaccurate. This reveals my age, perhaps, but I seem to recall that the ‘ghosts’* actually kill that ‘cheese’ you control, while you try and eat all ‘those little round things’? Before giving it that much thought, I just wondered if maybe the roles of object/subject should be reversed? Since Strategy is the thing we tend to try to ‘steer’ and arguably have some control over, and Culture is this nebulous thing that seems to evade and escape (or kill, through direct contact) our strategies, maybe Strategy should be ‘Pacman’ and Culture be the ‘ghost’?

On a more academic note, perhaps, I agree with M. Lippit about ‘mindsets’, it echoes Donella Meadows’ excellent essay on ‘places to intervene in complex systems’ – I think this argued that the ‘paradigm’/mindset of the system is the most effective intervention point, ahead of things like rules, stocks & flows and other potential intervention points.

Provided you buy that model, we should work hard on building a strong (positive) culture – in itself, that could be a strategic objective, of course. Much like on a national scale, the rule of law, access to justice, and other building blocks help define the culture – nepotism, corruption and autocracy will undermine any serious attempts at cultural reform.

I personally like the Cultural Web (Johnson, 1988 or 1992) as a model to describe the culture of an org – see ‘Factors and elements’ in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_culture

Thanks for the article, Torben – please keep them coming and share your thoughts

*I looked it up, they even have names:-) “Four enemies (Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde) roam the maze, trying to catch Pac-Man.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pac-Man

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