Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast – What’s for Lunch?

In 2006 the management consultant Peter Drucker said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Drucker pointed out strategy is necessary but it’s organizational culture that makes it happen, or doesn’t.

Simply, strategy is “what needs to get done” – culture is “how we do things around here” AND “how we feel about things around here.”

Culture is essentially both actions and emotions.

Culture Created by Leaders

Historically, an organization’s culture was created from the behavior of a founder or charismatic leader – actions speaking louder than…

Here’s an example from a story I’d come across. Bill Gates was famous for working late nights and weekends at Microsoft during the early years. What programmer would dare leave at 5:00pm Friday knowing that BillG might show up with a question?

It became such a cultural expectation at early Microsoft that programmers would prank one of their own who did leave the office, even if just to go home, shower, change, whatever.

Grass Grown

When the “deserter” returned they might find their office floor had grown grass, literally.

The furniture would have been removed in their absence, real grass sod placed over the carpet, and furniture replaced – as if nothing happened.

The unsubtle message was that…

“Whoever left the office while others still worked had been away so long grass could grow”

The grass prank became so prevalent the Real Estate & Facilities (RE&F) department started to supply plastic covers for the carpet, trying to save cleanings or replacement. After many “grasses”, RE&F created a process to streamline the joke requests.

“Grass” was one of many ways culture sped up Microsoft’s progress toward putting “…a computer on every desk and in every home…” Making it a reality sooner rather than later.

Culturally, BillG’s behavior drove programmers’ actions but also shaped how they felt about what they were doing. Culturally, behavior (actions) and attitude (emotions) are one.

Culture is a 360 Degree Experience

Explicit and implicit signals are sent from an organization to each employee, intentionally and unintentionally.

From recruiting, interviewing, hiring, on-boarding, first days, pay, recognition, celebrations, work exceptions, disciplinary actions…you get the drift.

Every event and interaction can contribute to how employees learn to “do things around here” and how they “feel about things around here.”

The Conundrum of Culture Creation

Organizational culture is acknowledged as a driver of success. Yet there doesn’t appear to be a singular, tried and true way to intentionally create a supportive, empowering culture.

The act of describing culture often falls into vague ambiguity with worn-out, meaningless cliches – see my phrase above “supportive, empowering culture.”

What the heck does that mean for an employee in their unique work environment?

And if clearly and specifically articulated, it’s even more of an obstacle for how to achieve it.

It Takes a…Universe?

The conundrum of intentionally creating a desired culture is that it likely takes many different roads to get there. Some will be hard, others soft. But many and constant are the avenues.

While HR is the traditional gatekeeper and head chef for baking in organizational culture, culture will have to be defined by, for, and across all functions, such as:

  • Operations; teamwork, accountability, learning, recognition, etc.
  • Finance; wages, PTO, benefits, bonuses, etc.
  • Executive; leadership styles, communications, personal behaviors, etc.

The first step among culture creation is to define the intentional one.

How? Start by asking.

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