Culture eats strategy for breakfast. But not without some hard work


Every time I hear someone say, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” I throw up a little bit in my mouth (sorry for that visual). Peter Drucker was definitely on to something when he coined the phrase. It has become a cliche, though; and most leaders toss it around as lip service to how important they think culture is. No one argues that point anymore. Culture is crucial…we all know that. It’s time to start actually doing something about it. We need more than cliches; we need thoughtful plans, tangible actions, intentional investment and energy around managing our culture. We ought to be managing culture, in fact, just as we do every other important operating system in our business. And if we don’t, can’t, or won’t, no one will be eating anything for breakfast.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and get intentional about managing your culture as a differentiator, then I’m going to share our recipe for workplace cultures that eat strategy for breakfast AND lunch AND dinner…AND dessert.

1 Cup of Culture Analytics

If we can all agree that organizational behaviors (desirable and undesirable alike) are almost entirely responsible for workforce outcomes (desirable and undesirable alike), then let’s start there. You need some data on the behaviors that are showing up in your workplace – the words, the actions, the stuff your employees really experience. It’s too easy to make assumptions about what’s going on out there. If you can get some reliable data (e.g independently administered surveys, etc), it’s a much better place to start. Don’t worry about good or bad. Just worry about ‘is.’ If you can get clear on what is, you can get more clear on what needs to be. But the data you gather needs to be at the behavioral level.

Don’t, for example, ask employees to tell you whether or not they agree with statements like “We collaborate to get stuff done.” That’s way too loose. “Collaborate” means lots of different things to different people. Rather, focus on a behavior that illustrates collaboration. Stuff like “People know what other departments need from them and share the right information at the right time.” You can take action on the latter, not the former.  Behavior modification in the workplace is hard but if you don’t measure, analyze, and understand those behaviors (use culture analytics), how can you even start to address the problem? You can’t. And this is how the best intentions begin to fall short.

Organizational culture

2 Cups of Culture Stewardship

Culture isn’t a one and done situation. It requires a commitment that includes simple everyday actions that move the needle. Who is responsible for culture? Everyone. So get everyone involved. Crowdsource culture management. We encourage organizations to create a cross-functional, diverse team of high-performing/high-potential individuals who are going to own culture management. That doesn’t mean they have to do all the work. It just means they heighten visibility to and accountability for the cause. You can’t do this alone…you need help. 

A Spoon, Not A Cup, of Priority

Let’s be honest – there are no shortage of things you could and should be doing with your culture.. Instead of going after the entire spice rack, pick out one or two you believe will have the biggest impact. Maybe just focus on the low hanging fruit first. But focus on things that are easiest to do and will have the biggest impact first. We can’t be all things to all people in the workplace. We’ve been trying for decades and it just doesn’t work. Take the first step, and start with the thing that will matter most to your organization.

No Substitutions!

If you admire the workplace culture of Google or Amazon, just know that what works for them isn’t going to work for you. Don’t copy culture, period!  And similar to substituting sugar for stevia, employees will find the taste off-putting.

Stir and Bake for 18 Minutes with an 8-Marker WorkXO Culture Survey

If you’re still reading the recipe, then let’s talk about putting it in the oven. There are 7 billion human beings on Planet Earth. And we all share a pretty common set of DNA. In fact, 99.9% of our DNA is the same. Yet there are also more than 3 million differences between each human genome. While it’s just .1% of all the DNA in our makeup, it’s enough to make each and every one of us unique, dynamic, and distinct. The same is true for organizations, for workplaces, for workforces, and for their cultures.

Understanding those differences can lead to powerful insights and actions. And that’s exactly what we do at QuestionPro – give you those insights. Through our tested, validated, and proven 18-minute employee survey, the WorkXO Culture Survey will render an extensive set of data, benchmarks, comparisons, and analytical tools to get to the heart of your organization’s culture DNA. And that DNA becomes your own secret recipe – the one that will allow you to identify the behaviors that best characterize your culture, the one that will allow you to create visibility and accountability around your intentional culture work, and the one that will allow you to prioritize that work on those things that will have the biggest impact on your success.

A recipe for culture, after all, that will eat strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

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