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We’ve all heard the quote culture eats strategy for breakfast” from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. As a self-described ‘strategy guy’ I’ve always taken exception to the idea of being subordinated on the menu. And while there is certainly merit to Drucker’s now famous statement, I prefer we restate it to get it right. 

What is strategy?

My preferred definition of strategy is how an organization builds a competitive advantage within a defined market. How will you compete and win? The sum of the choices and trade-offs an organization makes in its pursuit of differentiating itself from competitors is its strategy. Without a strong strategy, the organization merely exists in the market doing the same things as its competitors. Such an organization may survive, but it neither thrives nor succeeds over the long-term. 

What is culture?

I define culture as how your organization conducts itself. It is the sum of the behaviours, norms, and values that guide an organization and its people. Culture speaks to an organization’s personality – its DNA – and the way people act when no one is watching. Like strategy, organizations that lack strong cultures struggle to build positive momentum and see constant turnover in good people. They may not go out of business, but they will fail to achieve any significant success. 

Strategy vs Culture

The expression “culture eats strategy for breakfast” stems from the notion that a business with a great strategy, but a poor internal culture, will not be successful. If its people aren’t invested and committed to upholding certain ways of doing things, the best plans won’t make much difference. A sports team with a great playbook, but a group of players with disjointed values and poor work ethics who are lacking shared purpose won’t win. The same is true in business and, as such, the statement that culture is more important to an organization’s success than strategy holds up. 

However, if we think of that same sports team, but now imagine that they have an incredible group of talented players who are invested and committed in the team but take the field with no game plan. How successful will they be in the long run? Even if they share values and work hard together, how will they perform if they don’t have a clear path to accomplish their goals? In addition to missing the strategy, I also think it is very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a strong culture if you aren’t winning. As the losses pile up, cracks begin to show and the culture quickly erodes. People want to play for a winner – thus, by definition, a strong culture requires a strong strategy. 

So, what’s for breakfast?

The jockeying between culture and strategy, is a fool’s errand. Show me a thriving organization and I will show you one with a strong culture AND a strong strategy. The two need to go together for organizations to achieve their true potential. I think it is time we retire the notion that one eats the other for breakfast. It is more like bacon and eggs. We can spend time debating which one matters more, or we can quickly realize that breakfast is better with both. So, order up! I’ll have culture AND strategy, please. 

Here to help

Unsure of where to start your culture integration or the development of a cohesive strategy for your business? Incite has more than twenty years of experience working with clients dealing with these concerns. We have tackled complex challenges in various verticals providing us with a unique lens on how to help businesses navigate these issues as they arise and how to plan accordingly. Please reach out to the author of this article, Ted Kouri using the contact button below.