Peter Drucker famously once said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The point he was making was that culture is probably one of the most important ingredients of success and that strategy alone won’t cut it.
I agree with the concept, although maybe not as strongly at Peter Drucker’s statement implies. Both culture and strategy are required but I do agree that organizations with a strong and vibrant culture that supports and drives strategy will win out every time.
Culture Drives Strategy
Both culture and strategy are needed for organizations to succeed over the long haul. Every time I fly Southwest, get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or my wife orders shoes from Zappos, I’m reminded how important culture is to an organization’s brand and strategy. Each of these transactions expose us to a little glimpse into the culture of their organization and has a lot to do with why I keep going back.
However, there are differences in what each brings to the table that need to be understood. Culture is an organization’s beliefs, attitudes, and actions that guide how an organization operates. A strong culture operates with a set of shared values and norms that guide how everyone in the organization makes decisions. Organizations with vibrant cultures (like those listed above) empower and encourage employees’ passion for the organization which, in turn, fosters a performance oriented workplace with high levels of employee involvement.
Strategy, on the other hand, is much more tactical in nature. It is the set of goals and objectives that the organization wants to accomplish. Strategy is more about what needs to be done rather than how to do it. Market goals, financial health, operational efficiency, and growth plans are all examples of strategic decisions. Even so, it would be very difficult to regularly achieve these strategic goals without a culture of commitment within the organization.
When considering how important culture is in addition to strategy, two examples come to mind. First, think about a time when you at at a restaurant where the food was excellent but the service was horrible. The dining room was crowded, loud and not particularly clean. Now think of a dining experience when the food was average but the service was excellent. You were treated like royalty by the staff and the place was spotless. Which of those experiences was the most pleasant? Which restaurant will you be more likely to visit again?
Another great example of how culture influences strategy is the United States Marine Corps. The military is well known as a strategic organization. However, much of the strategic success of the military is totally dependent on the culture. Every marine is indoctrinated from day one that they are the few, the proud, the elite of the military. This culture is so strong that it is an important part of the strategy. Knowing that each member of the team will never let another member down allows the marines to accomplish tasks that few other organizations are capable of even starting. Strategy is important but culture fuels strategy. Both are needed for organizations to reach their potential.
Scott Wilson is currently a Customer Experience Principal at a Fortune 50 company. He is also a marketing and business strategy consultant for small businesses and writes about Leadership, Communication, and Marketing on his blog at scottkwilson.com.