“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This quote has been attributed to the great management consultant Peter Drucker, though nobody has been able to provide a citation. It certainly sounds like him. He had a dozen similar maxims:
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
“Meetings are by definition a concession to a deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.”
“So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.”
“What gets measured gets improved.”
Did he say it? Nobody knows. It doesn’t matter who said it—culture is more important than strategy. You may have an amazing product and plan, but nothing will limit your organization’s success like an unhealthy or dysfunctional culture. And if what you sell is a service, I suggest you become so obsessed with culture that people start to wonder if you have fallen in love or had a religious experience.
Culture does eat strategy for breakfast. It’s not just a cute turn of phrase; it is absolutely true. You simply cannot create scalable and sustainable success without a Dynamic Culture. Occasionally an organization with a massively dysfunctional culture will appear to be defying this truth, but the unspoken reality is: They are giving up a huge amount of upside as a result of their dysfunctional culture; their employees are paying a miserable price for the organization’s success; and the organization’s leadership is at best mortgaging its future and at worst raping it. In the process, they rob their employees of the joy of meaningful work and the opportunity for the reward and recognition they so richly deserve. These organizations may seem successful, but with a Dynamic Culture their success would be staggeringly greater.
For too many leaders, culture isn’t important until it’s urgent, and by the time it’s urgent, it’s too late. A bad culture can hide behind a great product or innovation for a while, but not forever. Unhealthy cultures can limp along, even grow moderately in an expanding industry, but before too long the employees will become miserable and disengage, and anyone with real talent will leave. The best people leave first, just like the best swimmers leave a sinking boat first. Sick cultures lose their ability to attract top talent, which means sooner or later they get stuck with second-rate, mediocre employees who go there to hide their mediocrity or laziness.
It is common for culture to be neglected in favor of strategy, especially in the short term. In small and new organizations, this is understandable. Anyone who has ever started an organization can tell you epic stories about how hard they worked to get it up and running. But while this may be necessary in the short term, it is not sustainable in the long run.
Culture is also often neglected in favor of short-term gain. The real disease sets in when culture is ignored, set aside, or neglected just for the sake of profit, bonuses, or share price. In the long run every organization pays the price for this type of shortsightedness. Culture is your organization’s best lifelong friend.
The best thing about Dynamic Cultures is they are fertile. They procreate, and the children of great cultures are: employee engagement, trust, innovation, creativity, customer and employee loyalty, extraordinary teamwork, fun, entrepreneurialism, adaptability, and so much more. Culture—not strategy, technology, finance, industry knowledge, or marketing—is the ultimate competitive advantage of our age. It will be the organizations with the best cultures that will dominate their competition in the twenty-first century.
So, who’s keeping an eye on culture in your organization? Who is responsible for intentionally developing a Dynamic Culture in your organization? When was the last time you had a proactive conversation about culture (not to be confused with a reactive conversation about culture that popped up because something went wrong or someone complained)? Does culture have a line in your budget?
The sad, tragic, miserable truth is that most organizations are very passive about culture—but Dynamic Cultures don’t just happen; they are created intentionally. A Dynamic Culture is essential to the long-term success of any organization—isn’t it time you started getting more intentional about yours?
—Matthew Kelly, The Culture Solution