Why Exactly Does Culture Eat Strategy for Breakfast?

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  This famous phrase was initially coined by the late management guru Peter Drucker and then popularized more recently by Mark Fields of Ford Motor Company. SInce Field's use of the phrase in the middle of the last decade, it has been tossed around thoughtfully by many marketers and thought leaders.  Most of us have heard the phrase, but, I am not sure how many of us have really thought about why culture is so important, perhaps more important than strategy.  

Culture is purely an outcome of leadership.  And, I mean leadership from both individuals and long-term institutional and organizational leadership.   A strong and effective leadership model creates, in fact, a culture of shared beliefs.  And, people - at all levels of an organization - share this culture and transmit it to others in the organization.  Mature organizations often are marked by a a real sense of identity, clarity around their shared belief systems and operating principles.  A successful leader knows that his or her vision and strategy is important.  But, he or she also knows that their vision will largely be lost on an organization if it is not in line with the shared culture or an organization.  So, word to the wise:  read the tea leaves of the culture before you launch a vision or strategy.

A simple rule of thumb for organizational effectiveness might be this. 

  1. Read the tea leaves to learn the culture or an organization.
  2. Create a vision and set of strategies that are in line with or can leverage that culture. 
  3. Transmit the shared vision in language that is embraced by the culture. 

And the cycle continues, assuming that the culture is strong and healthy.  But, what should you do if the culture in unhealthy and is in need of change?   That is the subject of our blog post tomorrow.