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You Can't Eat Your Culture And Have Your Strategy, Too.

You Can't Eat Your Culture And Have Your Strategy, Too.

Culture eats strategy… for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This quote has been attributed to Peter Drucker, minus the breakfast, lunch and dinner part, and it is one of my favorites, because I find it to be so true and a powerful reminder of what to look at when things aren’t quite working. 

Often when things aren’t going as expected, we look at the plan or strategy and assume it’s not good, or we look at the execution and focus on the gaps. These are reasonable approaches, but there are other factors that can play a role in an individual’s or organization’s success. And those factors fall under culture.

Strategy is like a seed. We spend time looking for the most superior seed. We research and we learn so we can create the best strategic plan. I see people investing in guru coaches or consultants and spending gobs of money to buy their program or attend that conference or read their book, so as to get the best strategy or plan. Sometimes, despite all the investment - like a farmer who plants the best seed in poor soil or who doesn’t water it - they don’t get the desired results - they see zero to little change.

[Related: Let Go Of Interpersonal Office Tension]

Why don’t we accomplish our goals or execute our great strategic plans sometimes?

Because your culture won't support the change. The plan may be sound, the implementation may even have been good but for sustainable transformation to occur, you have to look at culture. It also happens in individuals who are trying to change their lives or  just live out their New Year's resolutions. You can't just have a plan, you have to look at your personal culture.

Think of culture in parts - Values, Vision, Story & Process.

Values

People and organizations certainly often have a clear set of values. What is also common is they have aspirational values.  An organization may say that integrity is one of their values, however, in their day to day actions, they promote “get the job done by any means necessary, no matter what corners you have to cut to make it happen”.

In this case, integrity is not really a actual value, it is an aspirational one. People also often have a set of values that differ from what they profess to have. I once worked with a leader who said she valued her people, however, when there was a project that went wrong, she had no problem discarding any personal relationships she had over the failed project. In that case, the leader really valued results over people.

Values shape behaviors and if you don’t really own your true values, you can never really set authentic goals. If you don’t have authentic goals, you will sabotage yourself or your team etc.

Vision

Vision determines how far you will go. If I don't see it or believe it can be achieved, I am less likely to get there. Sometimes leaders have a big vision and their teams just can’t see it or maybe the leader doesn’t communicate the vision in a way that is clear and inspiring, so you have team members who will choose to comply, rather than be really committed to the vision. Vision also energizes and promotes excellence in execution. 

Think about a recipe book. When it has pictures, you get a sense of what the finished product is supposed to look like and you can quickly tell when you are off track, when you compare your product to the picture attached to the recipe stage. That’s what vision does.

When I work with individuals that want to go to their next level, I focus on helping them up-level their vision first. They have to begin to see themselves living the dream, before we can breakdown the strategic plan to make it happen.

Vision will help them be more creative and it will also help them push through resistance.

[Related: Five Things Small Businesses Can Do To Create A Culture That Benefits Women]

Story and Ethos

Your story creates your ethos, which are your guiding beliefs. These shape your life. 

Whatever we believe, we will make true. We are invested in proving our stories. If we see ourselves as victims, then we will create that reality. For example, if we insist that we are “just creatives” and hate working with numbers, then we will never do the work to grow in that area. 

Having the ability to have worked not just in the US but in places like Nigeria, it is interesting to see how much stories play a role in different cultures, especially superstitious ones like Nigeria.

Once I was doing an assessment on a spa/salon that was struggling. I set about interviewing the employees. There was a salon that had opened down the street and they were growing their customer base rapidly while this one was losing customers just as fast. When I asked two of the stylists why they thought this was happening, they responded, “She (the competitor) uses charms to lure her customers. Everyone knows that.” Now upon further investigation, there were of course leadership and management issues, but a few employees couldn’t see that because as far as they were concerned, their failure was due to a supernatural force.

Process

"That's how we do it, that's how it's always been done"
Sound familiar. That’s process. No matter the strategy, if someone isn’t open to changing their process in order to accommodate the new strategy, the change initiative is doomed to fail.

I’ll give a personal example here. I am working on improving my health and my wellness coach has been trying to convince me to start being less creative with my meals and focus on just staying on track. She told me a story about a doctor she works with who eats the same lentils, celery and something else, every single day.

I told her that sounded like a kind of hell. “I can’t eat the same thing every day. I’ll feel like I’m being punished. Spontaneity is part of my culture!” I protested, while I’m sure she was rolling her eyes. With a client like myself, a rigid meal plan doesn’t always work, but even as I write this, I realize, I may have to change my process in order to guarantee results. There has to be some compromise, because I can’t eat my culture and have my strategy too.

[Related: 5 Ways to Beat Social Anxiety in Business Meetings]

This is why when I work with individuals or organizations I focus largely on helping them uncover their true culture. You see culture is not readily obvious. It is not detectable on spreadsheets or mission statements. It is very rarely intentional but an organic byproduct of programming, experience and ideologies. For individuals, when asked to describe their personal culture they may say one thing but when we do some discovery, we uncover hidden patterns and beliefs that they may never have realized. 

Organizations also have all sorts of hidden culture components - some are like a Harry Potter book, filled with hidden passages and ethos.

I worked with one organization whose top leadership complained that the staff was not innovating. When we dug deeper, I discovered a culture of not giving credit for ideas, an inconsistent reward and recognition system and a culture of reactivity versus proactivity. Innovation can come out of need and emergency, but that is not strategic innovation which is what the executive leadership desired more of.
We worked on changing the culture and it is not easy by any means but within a reasonable amount of time, there was a significant shift in behaviors.

This applies to individuals as well. The first time I met a highly degreed graduate who was unsuccessful, I was gobsmacked. This was long before I studied organizational and change leadership of course. 

It was confusing, how was it that despite the kind of educational resume that would impress anyone, they were low achievers. As I worked with one woman, I discovered why she was stuck. And guess where her quicksand lived? That's right, in the area of culture, particularly in her ethos and her vision.

As you prepare to enter this new year, whether as an entrepreneur or as a careerist, as a CEO of the home or leader in an organization, don't just focus on strategy, think about your culture.

Remember culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner in just a few small bites. If you want to effect change in your life or organization, focus on culture.

What is your personal culture? Don't let your goals get eaten, they deserve to be fulfilled. 


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