Peter Drucker is attributed with saying – Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

It was a simple phrase that stirred the pot, creating heated debates, particularly among people who make a living consulting on strategy.  Some of this stems from the critics’ view that such a statement is absolute, as though Drucker was saying the only choice is to focus on one or the other and that culture comes first.

One argument is that culture doesn’t matter much for a failing company losing most of its market share.  When that happens, not enough employees are left to have a culture anyway. Think back to Blackberry’s precipitous decline several years ago as an example of such a scenario, notwithstanding its recent and new strategy and product launch designed to bring it back up the competitive ladder.

I would never argue that great strategy isn’t a critical factor for success. But once a potentially winning strategy is set and products are out there, then it is all about execution and team performance.

It is the organization’s people (and the culture in which they work) that are now on the front lines, duking it out in the trenches. This is what team performance must be geared up to deliver: smart, inspired, tirelessly energetic marketing, selling, customer service, distribution, delivery, meeting targets, goals, quotas and technical performance standards, with continuous improvement in every area.

There is no time for distraction. The high performing team is one with every person in it committed and engaged. Success requires clarity and aligned focus on outcomes. Is the team trained up and fired up to the task – or not?  And the chances of that answer being a yes are a whole lot higher if the culture is one with a common language of mutual respect and shared ownership of outcomes.

Drucker’s proposition, that culture eats strategy for breakfast, was aimed at the other end of the scale, where any strategy, no matter how viable it may seem to be, is vulnerable to the failings of a dysfunctional culture.

This can include organizations pre-occupied with an inward focus, or preoccupied with activities not outcomes, or driven by rules and procedures without engaging employees in their purpose.  In these or any other organizations where respect, accountability and communication are seen as distractions and not critical to success, strategy is not eaten by culture in a single serving. It is an all day breakfast.

Paul Kells
Business Accelerator, Culture Change Expert, Respect and Safety Specialist
“Reach new standards for safe and positive workplace cultures”