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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Have you ever stopped to really think about the meaning behind this Peter Drucker quote?  It htweetable-roundup-of-leaders-why-culture-eats-strategy-for-breakfastas recently bubbled up in my LinkedIn feeds, and I smile and nod my head when I see it.  Why?  What underlying thesis resonates that elicits this response?

Today’s post explores this question, and to start let’s dig into the definitions of the words culture and strategy … I used the site Business Dictionary as a source:

Strategy [strat-i-jee] – 1. A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.
Culture [kuhl-cher] – noun – 1. A pattern of responses discovered, developed, or invented during the group’s history of handling problems which arise … culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable.

One of the most important premises I’ve learned over the years is in order for the strategy to be right, it must fit within the culture of the company. Right strategy + right culture = success.  The opposite is also true … wrong strategy + wrong culture = failure.  The other combinations are less clear cut, because as the saying goes even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

But the reason culture eats strategy for breakfast is because people are loyal to a culture.  In order to feel like they can succeed, people  must first feel like they belong.  In order to feel like they belong, they must believe in the repeated pattern of responses exhibited by senior leadership. The end result is trust, and it is easier to get behind a strategy when there is trust.

When times get tough (and strategies go awry, as they sometimes do), culture is what will see the company through. Conversely, when trust in the organization is lacking, even the best of method or plan to bring about a desired future can be resisted or worse, counteracted. Point #6 in this SlideShare titled 12 Reasons Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch states it this way … a brittle culture can doom even a great organization (or product).

Actually, all 12 points in SlideShare are really good, with some great examples from Southwest, to United Airlines, to even Hostess and the death of the Twinkie!  And at the heart of the 12 points are some great lessons on leadership consistent with what is necessary to succeed as a product manager.

Explore for yourself, but distinctive competence (ie- what you are really good at and what you stand for) is the heart of what defines the culture.  That starts with asking the questions “Why do we do what we do?” “What are we great at?” “What will we be uniquely advantaged at doing?”.   Unfortunately, many times the starting point are questions like “How can we grow?” “How do we improve the bottom line?” “What new markets can we enter?” “Where can we cut?”.