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Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

By Anthony Taylor - December 29, 2021

Hey there, my name is Anthony Taylor, I'm the Managing Partner at SME Strategy. We facilitate strategic planning sessions and help leadership teams implement their strategic plans. And today, I want to talk to you why culture eats strategy, and why it's important for you to consider as you move your strategic plan forward.

So you might have heard culture eats strategy. In fact, you might not have heard of it. But it's a fairly famous saying by strategist Peter Drucker. And what I believe he meant by that is you can have the best strategic plan, you can have the best goals, you can have the best vision, but if you don't have the right kind of culture, the right kind of people environment to support it, it doesn't really mean anything.

Now, the evidence I have of that, so I've been leading strategic planning sessions for for 10 years. And we go through the process of creating a vision statement, we do creating mission, we do strategic priorities, we do goal setting, we do all the strategic planning stuff, because that's critical.

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One of the exercises that is the most impactful is when we talk about values and behaviours, and how they're going to drive the performance of the organization. So we ask teams and say, Hey, what are the values/behaviors that you have now? And then they list them. Then we say, what are the values and behaviours that you want in your organization in the future, which are the most important ones? And then we say, well, if everybody lived these values and behaviours, would you accomplish your vision? And the answer is yes. Well, if nobody lived your values and behaviours, would you accomplish your vision? And the answer is no. And we do all of this before doing any action planning any goal setting or any strategic prioritization.

So why is that important? It means that with the right people, doing the right things, working together in the way that best supports your organization, you have a better chance of accomplishing your plan, than if you just have a bunch of goals on the page.


Watch: Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast


Now, one other way to think about this, that I invite you to look at as you do your planning for, you know, whenever you're at is that you can have a great plan. But if your team isn't communicating, if they're not working together, if there's no trust to disagree, or be honest, you know, if people aren't feeling supportive, if people aren't feeling engaged, then their hearts aren't going to be into the work. Now, I recognize, as I say, the word like hearts not being into the work, you know, it might sound a little soft, but at the end of the day, we're dealing with people, with feelings, with personalities with lives outside of work. And that's becoming more and more important in the day to day, especially with remote work, kind of blurring the lines. Read more: Creating a Company Vision & Values for Remote Work.

And so if you only look at, you know, days in days out and performance, and you fail to consider how your leadership team works together, how your employees work with their management, how your managers work together, you know, the systems, structures and processes, you have to support the human beings and the individuals in your company, then you can do a great strategic plan. But if you're not going to move it forward, and your people aren't caring about it, then it's not going to make a difference.

Now, here's the third reason. Most strategic plans that we work with, with entrepreneurial companies that want to grow, result in a transformational change for the organization. So it's not just incremental, they're not just trying to do slightly better. Most of the time when people hire us, they've got lofty goals, they've got big ambitions. And it comes with a lot of change. Now, changing itself can be challenging for people. And it deals on all of that soft people emotional stuff. Now, if you don't have the right culture to support that transformational change, if you don't have the right managers who are equipped to have the conversations, or the empathy, to recognize how the change is affecting people, or you don't have the right leadership skills in place to overcome the challenges that are inevitably going to follow, then your strategy is going to fail.

So in all of the examples that I mentioned, you know, having a document and having a strategic plan is great. But if you don't have the environment to support the plan, the communication, leadership skills, the you know, soft stuff, the people stuff, then your strategic plan - your strategy is bound to fail. And that's why in my opinion, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And so as you're doing your strategic plan, make sure that you consider your culture and your people and the systems you have to support them. It's going to be an investment that's going to pay off tenfold and it's going to make your job as a CEO leading strategy much easier.

So I hope that gives you some different perspectives as to how to look at traditional strategic planning from a people lens and we are available to support you and have those conversations both with yourself and your management team to help you move your strategic plan forward and help you come accomplish your One Destination. So be sure to reach out to us at SME Strategy, you can subscribe and follow for more.

And if you enjoyed today's video be sure to drop in the comments what you learned from this. Do you have a different interpretation of what culture eats strategy for breakfast means or is there something that I might have missed that you want to share?

So thanks so much for watching and I look forward to seeing you next time.

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