Peter Drucker is often credited as having said that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I have seen “lunch” and dinner” as well, however it appears as though he never actually said any of this. It does seem likely that this is something he might have thought, though. Some research on this returns a debate and the very real possibility that it was Mark Fields who said this while working for the Ford Motor Company.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference. The power of a company culture is extreme and is why Drucker did say that attempts to change one are futile. He was a proponent of working with what you have and often compared company culture to country culture.
Ok, that’s serious stuff. The culture of the United States is decidedly Western and formed by a diverse group of immigrants that began 10,000 years ago so any attempt to change it would require effort beyond the imagination. Changing your company culture would need some form of Herculean effort as well. No wonder Drucker would say to take the path of least resistance and use your effort for something you can accomplish.
So let’s talk strategy.
Your company should have one. It should be simple. Domenico De Sole, former CEO of Gucci, and whom a family member of mine worked for said “your strategy has to be so simple a lamp can understand it.” So a simple strategy that everyone understands. I will bet you only two in ten people reading this know or understand their company strategy if we eliminate those in executive management. Include the guys at the top and I say the odds increase to a paltry four or five in ten.
The are two reasons: Confusion and exclusion but it is most likely both in tandem.
Confusion: Company strategy is often developed by a small group of executives in a dark smokey room that requires a secret password to enter. The password is usually a degree from a top-tier business school which allows entry into the queue of consulting and then on to the company where you work. The consulting approach to business strategy will ensure that it will be complicated and full of the latest industry buzzwords. There are often brilliant looking PowerPoint slides and Infographics to support the argument you can indeed boil the ocean if you employ the flux capacitor in your DeLorean. No wonder most employees aren’t interested and, therefore, have little understanding of the path forward.
Exclusion: Even if you have a simple strategy that is understood, you will still fail in implementing it. The reason is that your company culture has to support and be capable of rallying around the way forward. A plan that runs counter to the DNA that makes up your business won’t pass muster with the folks who are responsible for carrying it out.
It is likely your strategy will fail due to one or both of these reasons which are why your culture is the most powerful component of the business. It’s why culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the in between snacks you can stomach. What you should do is discuss your plan in public with your employees. Let them opine, participate and become part of the strategy development. They will have some great ideas, and you will get an added kick. Employee participation will facilitate buy-in and support from your company culture which is a requirement for strategy execution.
My best, Chris