Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Posted by in Leadership, The Leadership Coach™

I was talking with one of the senior team at Gloria Jeans Coffees last week and she made a memorable statement as we discussed the different ways leaders can view the challenges facing their teams. Sadly it’s something many organisations don’t seem to understand- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I couldn’t agree more.

Now, I’m not one of these leaders that describes themselves as being a “big picture person” in an attempt to gloss over a lack of attention to detail. In fact, I love strategy. I enjoy problem solving. I care about scoring every point I can, not just winning the game.

But if I had to choose between culture and strategy as my primary weapon there is no contest. I will choose culture in a heartbeat.

1. Culture Is Soil

The culture of every organisation is to its team what soil is to the plants that depend upon it. Focusing on strategy without addressing culture is rather like planting a palm tree in a swamp. No matter how good your strategic initiatives may be in their own right, the likelihood of their sustained success comes down to culture more than just about any other single factor. I’m no horticulturalist, but it’s common sense that unsuitable, barren or toxic soil will eventually kill even the best plants. The leader that ignores culture is often the same person who rants about the ineffectiveness of their team, blames HR for poor hiring, moans about “Gen Y”. Their team are stunted, fruitless and impotent. And culture is their silent killer.

  • So what’s the true condition of your soil?

2. Culture Is Life Blood

The culture of your team is its life supply. Its essential role, like blood in your body, is to bring life to every area and to carry away the toxins that would otherwise destroy it. For better or worse, when a team is injured they bleed the true culture. Who we are when things go against us says everything about our actual values, regardless of what mission statement we put on our website. A healthy organisation has potent culture pumping through its veins, mostly unseen yet nourishing every part. No hardened managers blocking arteries. No internal bleeding quietly draining life away.

  • So do you need a blood test?

3. Culture Is Ideology

If we elevate strategy without giving attention to culture, we’ll win the battle but lose the war. Down through history the empires that have truly altered the world as we know it were those who ideas, world view and beliefs impacted the cultures that came into contact with them. The best teams have a pervasive passion about them. They get the big “why”, and as a result “what” and “how” tend to flow quite naturally. When we live our values its easier to develop people because everything we do and say is part of their training. Great ideology creates a contagious culture.

  • So what’s your infectious ideology?

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback
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26 Responses to “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast”

  1. Michael

    02. Jun, 2009

    Great article, especially when people are looking for short term sttategic answers to current problems – have tried to get into our guys that problems are the opportunities in business, and change the common mindset / response of getting furstrated. A problem solving culture.

  2. Kath

    02. Jun, 2009

    Paul – that’s a great article and gives me just the right intro to my first business coaching session tomorrow! I have signed up for the Mastermind at TCI and look forward to working with you and the other guys sooo much!

  3. Grant

    02. Jun, 2009

    WOW
    that is one great bite sized article on culture and soooo true!!

  4. Nicole Baines

    02. Jun, 2009

    So, so true.

    Sydney Hills BUSINESS CHAMBER has worked hard to seed, nurture and encourage the growth of a culture of relationship building that is very different to that found amongst other business agencies.

    Each decision we make at a Board and Operational level must stand the “culture” test before it gets a dry run through the “strategy” test. Understanding what you stand for and aspire to is a key bonding factor in any aligned team and allows clarity in your decision making.

    I encourage all business owners to ask “what do I stand for?” as that is at the heart of the culture of your organisation.

  5. Unbreakable

    02. Jun, 2009

    Great insight Paul!

    I was struggling with this very idea on strategy v culture this week.

    Love it!!!!

  6. MJ Shurey

    02. Jun, 2009

    Very insightful and pointed Paul -something I can and will immediately
    pass on to a couple of my clients!

  7. Dorothy Dacumos

    02. Jun, 2009

    Sir Paul,

    It is great receiving powerful articles from you. Am in the weddings business leading my team and am learning from you. More power!

    Daisy Dorothy

  8. Fibol

    04. Jun, 2009

    Culture is one central mechanism to execute your strategy. I see both paradigms complementary.

    Fibol

  9. Jeanine Bailey

    04. Jun, 2009

    Couldn’t agree more – having worked in organisations that have or haven’t had a culture of working together cohesively towards a clear vision. I know the type of organisation I’d like to grow and cultivate!

  10. gry planszowe sklep

    11. Apr, 2010

    Nice template , what is the name of tamplate you used in your site

  11. Paul Andrew

    12. Apr, 2010

    It’s called BusyBee

  12. Dave Wilson

    13. May, 2010

    I agree a good culture is essential in growing a great team/business/whatever.

    BUT not at the expense of loosing sight of your goals.

    Having a solid strategy is essential in nurturing the culture.

    I think the problem is too often that most people have a simplistic view of what a strategy is – it is not just a business plan – That’s a plan. A strategy needs to consider the “What If’s” – A strategy is having a plan to change the plan and knowing when and how to change the it.

    Being in touch with the culture will help you identify when its time to change the plan.

  13. Paul Andrew

    13. May, 2010

    I agree with you Dave. I’m not advocating tossing out the value of real planning & strategy. I do believe though that ever the best formed plan will rise or fall in the end on the culture of the organisation.

    Thanks for adding a great challenge to the discussion. I appreciate it.

    Paul
    .-= Paul Andrew´s last blog ..Being Adaptable Is Over-Rated =-.

  14. gry na telefon

    14. Sep, 2010

    Hi, Great post, I agree with you.

  15. Des Gray

    18. Mar, 2011

    Hi Paul,

    Great post! Culture is human nature itself. Strategy, in a way, is human nature trying to direct itself to culture. True power resides where culture and strategy come together, eg Starbucks etc.

    The same goes for people. When we’re in the flow, the same combination fuels us automatically. The best teachings clear away the fog, so people’s unique power can surface. We broaden the channel by opening it, rather than by constricting it.

    When we’re in the flow, there are few obstacles or problems. When we become more (of our-self), we need less, and internal motivation / inspiration is automatic. The control is in letting go of the control. Trying to control only reinforces what we’re trying to escape from.

    Some words of wisdom from the Tao; “The master accomplishes much without doing”. Know thyself, and self mastery, that’s the key.

    1-on-1 Self Mastery</A

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