Management guru Peter Drucker is often misquoted as saying, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." His actual quote, according to the Drucker Institute, was, “Culture—no matter how defined—is singularly persistent.” The misquote is catchier, but both iterations illustrate one of Drucker’s core beliefs: that culture is vital to sustaining the values of any society or organization.
For me, this sparked a question of whether an organization’s culture is truly able to overcome any attempts made to change it. To understand the definition of culture as it relates to businesses, my go-to book is “The Culture of Success” by Steven J. Anderson. He distills culture down into two definitions:
- A combination of the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors in an organization.
- How we treat each other on our shared journey.
Now let’s do the same for strategy. At the Family Business Institute, we define strategy as “a clear set of plans, actions and goals that outline how a business will compete.”
With definitions in hand, is Drucker’s statement true? Will culture always win out over strategies to counteract it?
In any organization, regardless of size or industry, there's what is referred to as the “frozen middle.” These are the people who cling to the status quo. This resistance to change exists in every organization: at your church, in your community, at work and in your family.
If you’re witnessing this frozen middle in your organization (and we all do at some point), you can bet there's going to be resistance to proposed changes. There will be people who intentionally or unintentionally block, undermine or slow down new initiatives.
Contractors tend to focus on the rational, tangible, financial and operational aspects of their businesses. Most contractors have a culture by default that emerges within their business. Often, they don't actively work on or adjust their cultures; they just are what they are. Perhaps you can have a great culture without working on it, but putting in the effort to understand your company culture as it exists and as you would like it to exist creates an opportunity for further growth.
So, should you focus on your culture first and follow it up with a complementary strategy? Or vice versa?
It must be a combination. They must be mutually supportive. Culture and strategy have to agree with each other and reflect each other. Here are three points to help you shape (or reshape) your culture and strategy for success:
- Culture is the landscape upon which you execute your strategy. If you're going to construct something, you must first have a stable building site.
- Culture and strategy should not be fighting for singular control. They must nurture and reinforce each other.
- It is vital to engineer the type of culture you think will bring your business the most value. Even the greatest business strategy must be executed by people who exist within a well-defined culture.
Culture and strategy should not overwhelm one another, but rather exist in harmony and alignment with the vision and mission you’ve set for your business.
Wayne Rivers is the co-founder and president of the Family Business Institute. He has authored four books about families in business and has appeared on multiple nationally televised programs.
He serves as an expert panelist for The Wall Street Journal and has been quoted by Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, CFO, Family Business, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other trade, local, regional and national publications.
For over 15 years, Rivers has produced a blog and written hundreds of articles for various magazines and trade publications. He has held workshops and lectures for trade associations, prominent companies and well-respected universities. Along with being an Informa Markets Infrastructure & Construction contributor, he has also been honored as a Fellow of the Family Firm Institute.