Why Culture Does Not Eat Strategy For Breakfast

One of the most common management sayings, from the popular consultant Peter Drucker, is not true.

When he said it, it may have been meant for a different audience, potentially at a different time.  But after consulting with many of our entrepreneur clients, it seems I was not the only one who felt it was not true.  So what’s the saying?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Few nuggets to think about, including what culture means to Drucker, what stage of the company, and what level of strategy (management, technical, entrepreneur) he was referring to.

Alas, I recently began to understand where Drucker was coming from, where he may have been right, and also where he was wrong.

When Culture Eats Strategy

Existing businesses, with leadership and proper management intact, can have the absolute best strategy laid out: action steps, accountability partners, due dates, follow-up and reports to analyze the data.

But what if the leadership is without tact, empathy, and/or absentee managers?

That’s when strategy is eaten for breakfast by the absent culture of the business, and a lower desire to execute the initial strategy exists.

When Strategy Eats Culture

If your company culture is absent, here’s where you can find it.

Same situation from above: strategy laid out to complete a project, with action steps, follow-ups, and analysis of the data.

But this time?  There are weekly lunches, happy hours monthly and quarterly birthday parties.  The management embraces fun, community and the individuals within the company are treated uniquely, according to their strengths and weaknesses, and feel empowered to perform until the project is complete.

When to Implement/Empower Culture & Execute Strategy

Remember the chicken or the egg dilemma: what comes first? 

In this instance, I actually think they complement each other.  Strategy can be extremely effective and powerful when combined with effective understanding of culture in the workplace.  Like a game of ping pong, once established, the ball can volley successfully back and forth for long periods of time.

What should you focus on? 

There are a few ways to implement culture that may be part of your strategy.  Want proof?  Here’s the action steps we take at Structure:

  1. Make everyone feel comfortable: the gym is hot, sweaty, hard and exercises often look intimidating, so the last thing we want is to turn people off in another way

Strategy: no use of the word ‘fuck’

 

Culture side effect: people are more aware of their language, the side effect of it, and the “skunk effect.” Danny Meyer once said that having a skunk in someone else’s backyard is absolutely your problem if you can smell it, and someone dropping f bombs consistently stinks up a room.

2. Troubleshoot a problem before it starts: not getting results is one of the top reasons people leave a gym

Strategy: monthly program and workout changes, quarterly warmup changes, and full support on social media

Culture side effect: our entrepreneurs and executives are always striving to climb the corporate ladder, and we progressively push them similarly in the gym, and they never let us settle as well. In addition, our coaches and trainers are always attending workshops and seminars throughout the year to consistently push their level of knowledge.

3. People, product and profit: placed in this order of priorities (versus the inverse) stacks the deck in your favor

Strategy: Communicate openly with the people of the organization, including members, clients and staff, and always listen to their needs as humans

Culture side effect: knowing their needs are met, people have the ability to switch from takers to matchers or Instead of always taking from a company or the client, they’re always in a state of giving as well, constantly taking care of the client, membership, company, and product.  This will drive profit.

4. Something is better than nothing: showing up is one of the hardest things, especially when you aren’t motivated, muscles are sore and tight, and it is still dark out. Also, some people get hurt in this game called life, and may think an injured shoulder means they cannot train legs (wrong!).

Strategy: Having many workout options allows us to switch from one difficult workout option to an easier one without skipping a beat, and having our founder have a significant degree in sports medicine means we are prepared to work around or with any injury.

Culture side effect: Trust is especially critical when it comes to working out, and trusting your coaches to listen to your needs means you can accomplish something even when you don’t have much to give as a client.  Effort > no effort. 

After all that, I would still argue the statement is misleading.  Maybe Drucker knew about ‘click bait,’ maybe he was referring to mature companies, maybe he wanted a business he was consulting with, the one with perfect strategy yet poor performance, to add more culture to their mix.

Most of all, though, culture and strategy are remarkably interdependent, and not independent of each other as the statement may construe.

 

 

 

PS Want more on this topic?  I took a deep dive in Episode 019 of Coaching Coach, and also discussed the challenges of manager or leadership transitions.

Check it out, here:

 

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