Dr. Lee, the professor for my MBA International Management class, said something last month in DC that I hadn’t heard before:
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
I’ve experienced this firsthand, as likely have you, although I never thought about it in this way before. How many times have we seen a “great idea” for our organization get buried… somehow, mysteriously, and at the end reflect back on the process only to realize we have no idea how exactly it died?
Short answer: the culture killed it.
In my last post, we talked about how to stop sucking and some other fundamental elements of talent theory. Well, the ideas of natural talent can also be extrapolated to groups of people, and even further out to organizations as a whole.
This is actually where much of a company’s original “culture” comes from. Where the natural proclivity of the leadership lies, therein you will find the ethos that trickles down and over time becomes ingrained into the very fabric of that culture.
Apple, Inc. is innovative, tight-lipped, opinionated, and has a high appreciation for aesthetics — much like Mr. Steve Jobs.
The Virgin Group is daring, eclectic, experimental, and adventurous — much like its founder, Sir Richard Branson.
These things are not coincidences.
To be sure, leaders change and things shift. But the notion of natural talent can give us some great insight into what’s driving the culture of our organization (it’s even more noticeable in small organizations).
If culture is going to eat your strategy for breakfast, this is a pretty important thing.
Leverage knowledge of the natural bend of your company to help you position and present your strategies. Instead of fighting the culture, you’ll be going with the current.
Often the great ideas of leaders become lost in the culture of “me first” in organizations where the agendas of key people are in conflict with the agenda of the leader. This I have found to be more problematic than the interference of a positive growth oriented culture. The primary dilemmas is that leaders and/or founders establish culture, but the culture can not be sustained unless followers “buy into” the culture setting aside their own personal objectives for the good of the whole.Fortunately for positive cultures those followers who are primarily interested pursuing their own objectives are a mismatch for the culture and typically go their own way. The coincidence here is that just had this discussion with my class yesterday and said pretty much what I have said here.
The phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” was popularized by a WSJ article during Mark Fields tenure at Ford Motor. An example from my own experience is here:
Hey Jonathan, thanks for the info! Loved your post, btw.