Culture > Strategy


"Culture > strategy. Culture eats strategy for breakfast." We've all heard this before. Agree or disagree? Why?

Culture Change
Culture Development
Vic Clesceri
18 months ago

9 answers


I agree with this cliche. Most failures are a failure of execution, not a failure of strategy.
I'm making the assumption that culture is strongly correlated to ability to execute.

Omer Aziz, PENG, CHRL
18 months ago
completely agree. I have seen toxic culture ruin the best ideas. Likewise, I have seen teams where people were willing to go the extra mile for each other make up for lack of firm plans - Ellen 18 months ago

This was said by one of America's early business leadership "gurus," Peter Drucker. It is true in the sense that it's easy to craft an elegant strategy that ends up setting on the shelf while never being implemented. It's much more difficult - and a prerequisite to actually executing any strategy - to develop the healthy cultural unity and focus comprised of shared commitment (mission/vision/values) and readiness/competence necessary to get it done well!  My own quote related to this is: "A basic strategy that's well-executed outperforms a sophisticated strategy that's poorly-executed every time"!

Don Barefoot
18 months ago
Sorry Don - The famous management guru Peter Drucker often receives credit for this saying, but while very much Druker style of found a good citation. This notion can also be expressed less vividly as follows: Two paper recycling consultants named Bill Moore and Jerry Rose wrote an article about online transactions that referred to the adage in the concluding paragraph. This saying may have been - David 16 months ago

Culture and strategy? One can succeed without the other and neither will survive a mismatch.

Daniel L. Light, MBA
18 months ago

Culture IS greater than Strategy. The culture of a company relies on there being a clear set of values, strong leadership and a sense of transparency and honesty between the company, its employees, and it customers. These factors will be the ones that differentiate your company in difficult times and increased competition. Don's quote in an earlier response is spot on "A basic strategy that's well-executed outperforms a sophisticated strategy that's poorly-executed every time."

Scott Cook
18 months ago
Well stated. - Vic 17 months ago

I can define 'strategy' but 'culture' is more intangible. What do you all mean by this?

David Cottrell
18 months ago

I view culture as values. Defining your values will help in your strategy planning. Does the strategy match your values/culture? It's a great measuring tool.

Lynnette McMahon
18 months ago

Vic Clesceri , a classic quote and today as valid as in the past. Culture is based on behaviour on all levels. It includes an adequate top-from-the-top, but also an efficient system to communicate and foster the culture inside the corporation.

An Ethics & Compliance-department can actively foster this with including the founder’s vision in its training & workshops and then explain how complying with the internal guidelines & external laws ensures to keep this vision (strategy) alive.

Vision (including Values) + Strategy + Compliance = Sustainability

Nevertheless it is more a circle, as it is not only valid that culture eats strategy, but also to implement an adequate culture, organizations require an efficient strategy. This you may also align this with a quote by the Austrian-born management consultant and philosopher Peter Ferdinand Drucker: “Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing.

In fact he never said this that way, but defined in 1967: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” It was nearly 20 years later when Warren G. Bennis y Burt Nanus took this phrase and simplified it to the version, we know today. A key message is that leadership not requires management level, so could be done also from the middle or the bottom. This is important for our modern flexible company structures, where the project groups change from situation to situation.

But nevertheless is this really enough, should the sentence not get extended, as we need mangers, which are leaders, or in other words “do the right thing right”?

Even if you have the best intentions, if the execution of the project is not adequate, results can be fostering the problem, instead of solving it. No need to say that bad ideas, perfectly executed are even worse.
For this mangers require relevant business ethics and sustainability trainings, but on the other hand leaders have to be identified and receive adequate management skills.

Patrick Henz
18 months ago
Patrick Henz Great response. I especially liked “do the right things right.” I tell my teams “do the right things first (be effective) then do those things well (be efficient). - Vic 17 months ago
Thanks Vic Clesceri , effective and efficient have to work hand in hand. - Patrick 17 months ago

Culture is greater than strategy and with a great culture the strategy will be executed.  However, I have seen organizations hold the culture on a pedestal and never consider strategy.  Start with a great culture but don't forget the strategy.   

Becca Boyd, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
17 months ago

Successful communication is a two-way street: If management is doing all the talking, employees tend to tune out. What's more, the people doing the real work of the company often have the best suggestions for improving it and are often the first to see danger approaching.

What can you do today to start developing culture change within your organization?
There are lots of great managers who work really well with people - What might be missing is the underlying drive of culture in your organization. 

Here's what you can do to start fostering a culture of strategic growth: 

Check the Pulse

  • Take a survey of your people to get a sense of what they would change about their organization and what they would like to see in the future. Get them to start thinking about their ideal future, and how it might fit within your organization. 

Foster conversations

  • Your people want to contribute to the success of their work place. Create a safe space for them to discuss what's going on and what needs to be addressed to make their work lives better and more fulfilling. They will appreciate the fact that the management/leadership is people focused, and they in turn will be more engaged with their work. (You can hire a skilled facilitator to help)

Develop a vision

  • People need to know where they are going and how they are going to contribute to that success. If there's no vision and no sense of direction, then you have no chance of getting aligned on a culture. The vision holds it all together.

Celebrate short term wins

  • Now that you know where you're going, make visible successes towards that path. Once people see that the change towards creating a culture is happening then it will start to get Real and they are more likely to get behind it and then you'll start to get momentum.

Developing culture is more than just having a set of values and a vision. 
You need to live your culture and set the example. It needs to be part of everything you do, and it should act as a set of rules to help guide and empower your people with decision making.

You've no doubt 

David Whiting
16 months ago
David Whiting Agree... it takes continual vigilance; a sense of perpetual intentionality on the part of sold-out and aligned leadership to keep a vibrant culture clear, healthy, supported and reinforced. At some level, this is everyone's job, particularly among the management team. Delegating "compliance" (to vision, plan, values) to a separate department means you're already off-track! - Don 16 months ago

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