Why is culture always the poor cousin of strategic planning?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.


Ah yes, Peter Drucker’s immortal phrase is so important because culture can ruin a brilliant strategy. People get in the way.

The organisations that successfully transformed in the last six months had the right people, not the best strategy.


Culture is the collective belief about how the company should operate on a moment to moment basis.

The executive norm is to annually immerse knee-deep in a strategic planning “event”.


Strategy is the fun part of leadership. You get to workshop, explore, consider possibilities and have some fun doing it. You get to spend some big $ on expensive consultants. You do some self-reflecting and team activities to get everyone on the same page.


Yet, implementation is the fruit of your labour.


Implementation is usually a wild ride because a strategy is only a 50-50 bet. Flip of a coin. Your likely success rate for any initiative is circa 50% (according to Candido & Santos, 2015).


Why? Culture is the opposite to strategy. It's not fun. It's hard work, unrelenting and often thankless in trying to shift a stubborn culture.


Culture stands in the way of strategy execution, not beside it.


FUN: Where are we going? –> Strategy


NOT FUN: How are we going to get there? –> Culture


Strategy sits comfortably with Boards and Management teams because it's full of fun and fanfare. And if we don't get there it's OK. In AFL or NRL, it's the Coach that gets sacked if the team doesn't make the finals.


Culture change is seen as both nebulous and intangible. It’s just too hard to get your arms around it nor deal with it, let alone change it. You know it’s out there. Culture that is imposed or formulaic will always be resisted. The "system" prefers the status quo and will push back.


There's an old joke in Psychology: It's only takes one psychologist to change a light globe, but the globe has to want to be changed.


In the same way setting a strategic direction follows a fun and formal process, behaviour can also be regularly measured and monitored to feedback into strategy execution progress and performance.


At your next breakfast meeting, make sure strategy and culture all have an equal seat at the table.


It’s a much more enjoyable meal when strategy and culture team-up.