Culture Inhales Strategy for Breakfast… Then Spits it Out!

Culture-Strategy-leadership-breakfast-Joan-de-winnePeter Drucker, often considered the inventor and  father of modern management stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This saying explains why many people in a formal leadership position are struggling to obtain the results they are looking for. It also explains why so many change programs fail, even when they are supported by a clear and compelling vision.

To realize a vision and obtain desired results, we need to develop certain strategies, objectives, and processes. This is the part most managers are very good at. What is often forgotten, however, is that other road to be followed. Indeed, there’s also the culture of the company, the organization, the division or the team to take into account. Culture is defined by the common values, the individual behavior, and the attitude of the people working in the organization. This is where managers often fail – perhaps because they’re simply unaware of the cultural aspect’s importance, perhaps because they don’t feel comfortable with it or because they don’t have a proper road-map at their disposal.

I’d like to suggest to you a clear road-map, based on 3 simple principles: come out of your office, tell stories and focus on behavior.

First Principle: Management by Wandering Around

‘My door is always open. Whenever you feel the need to address any issue, feel free to come talk to me.’  This is what managers very often enjoin on their employees. Just as often, though, they find themselves surprised that when problems do arise, causing friction on the work-floor or even financial loss, no-one came to them beforehand. Many managers advocate the ‘open door policy’ but they too often see it as a one-way communication. They forget what it’s all about: when the door is always open, people can come in and talk to you, indeed, but you can go out and talk to your employees and team members yourself just as well! Don’t be an “undercover boss”.

Douglas R. Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company and author of the book ‘TouchPoints’, talks about how he implemented this very principle in his own company in an interview with Jon Katzenbach, leadership expert and Senior Partner at Booz & Company.

Second Principle: Corporate Storytelling

Storytelling is a very powerful tool to influence an organization’s culture and its employees’ behavior.

Eric Van Zele, CEO of Barco and elected ‘Manager of the Year 2012’ in Belgium, swears by the storytelling principle. “I am a conceptual  with a synthetic mind. Talking to everyone around me, provides me with the answers our organization needs. It’s not that difficult, really – you just need to listen. Focusing on the essentials, I then build up a good story and communicate it. The key to  a good story is understandability – everyone should understand your story, be it a Chinese worker, an American engineer or a Belgian HR person “.

The basics of storytelling are summarized very nicely by Sigrid Van Iersel, a Dutch expert in this field:

  1. The wish: Almost all stories begin with a dream, an ambition or a deep desire to put the story in motion.
  2. The obstacle: The main character takes action but is confronted with a barrier, an obstacle.
  3. The solution: In the end, a solution is found  and the obstacle is overcome.
  4. The result: And so ….  (Fill in what the result of this solution means for the organization, the team or the employees.)

Not all stories have a permanent solution or a crystal clear happy ending. The ‘result’ may also be  an  insight gained.

Third Principle: Focus on behavior and attitude

Douglas R. Conant  also asserts that “Behavior matters”Dick Brown, former CEO of Electronic Data Systems Corporation once said: “A company’s culture is really the behavior of its people… leaders get the behavior they tolerate.”

You may find changing someone’s behavior a harsh job – just think of all the times you already tried it with your children, partner, employees, or colleagues. Perhaps, though, you were unsuccessful only because your approach was rather clumsy.

The simple four-step method  outlined below will help you putting this third principle into practice.

Step 1: determine very precisely which kinds of behavior contribute to the realization of your
company’s vision. Do so by translating your company’s values ​into clearly defined behaviors.

Step 2: define which kinds of behavior are counterproductive and unacceptable.

Step 3: set a good example by complying with the defined rules of conduct yourself.

Step 4: consistently reward positive behavior and immediately address unacceptable behavior.

 A company’s culture is really the behavior of its people… leaders get the behavior they tolerate.” ~Dick Brown Tweet this

Try it out these three basic principles. You’ll be amazed at how they will contribute to developing the desired organizational culture your reaching for.

What other methods do you use to build a better culture in your organization? Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts and experience.

About Joan De Winne

Joan De Winne has been for more than twenty-five years the commanding officer of the Disaster Victim Identification Team of the Belgian Federal Police. He is now retired and founded ‘Vision 4 Dynamics’. A company specialized in evidence based leadership programs. Together with his wife Hilde Clement, a qualified psychotherapist and expert in communication skills, he now works as a trainer/facilitator. Together they are providing troaching sessions to help people in a formal leadership position at any level to close the employee engagement gap.

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Comments

  1. Good article. Just as a business leader must continue to invest in R&D and marketing to preserve market share, they should also get granular with respect to their company’s culture. Identifying, preserving and amplifying winning organisational traits are all necessary qualities in today’s competitive landscape.

  2. Great subject – culture is my favourite and like David I use an Appreciative Inquiry approach also.
    I particularly was captured by your comment “Don’t be an “undercover boss”. This is so true when managers find themselves overwhelmed by the workload and demands of their job it is easy to forget to be out and be visible and hence they go to ground and sometimes even have their PAs be their guard dog. It takes good work habits and an understanding of how frequency outpulls content when it comes to communication to make a good manager remember to be out there.

    • Thank you for your reaction Heidi. You are right. It is sometimes hard for managers to not only work IN their organisation but also ON as Chris McGof explains very wel in ‘The Primes’. When you like to have an appropriate culture supporting the organisationals vision and more engagement of people you will have to work ON it.

      Kind regards,

      Joan

  3. Thanks to all of you who scooped this post.

    Warm regards and a nice WE,

    Joan

  4. Thanks for bringing the importance of culture to life Joan! Many years ago I worked for a company that had an open door policy. The leaders were perplexed as to why people were not taking advantage of it. So in a symbolic display they decided to remove the doors. Culture is like an invisible door. A leader can only open it by being willing to first step to the other side of that door.

    • Thank you Suzan for your reaction. I like your saying that culture is like an invisible door and that as a manager you must be willing to open it and make the first step.

      Have a nice day,

      Joan

  5. Love it Joan. 3 great messages. Big effect if done positively. I love appreciative Inquiry as a culture change tool – people create stories together then get to act them out! Very positive formula for hard times and change weary cynics…but I love your suggestions too, and, I bet, will most pragmatic managers.

    Thank you.

    Warm wishes

    David

    • You are right David. AI is indeed a great tool too. We could in fact add it as a fourth principle. Thank you for pointing my attention on this.

      All the best,

      Joan

  6. Joan, I see we both have a passion for culture. I appreciate and practice your comment on leadership building a culture by what they will tolerate. The older I get, (or should I say experienced? :-)) the less tolerable I become of bad behavior. Thank you for the great words!

    • Thank you for your comment Susan. I understand what you say on becoming less tolerable about bad behaviour. This is perhaps an advantage of becoming older :-).

      Kind regards,

      Joan

  7. HI Joan,
    Great actionable post. Culture gets its power from the sweet craving to stay the same. People seek stasis and comfort. MBWA is “exercise” that overcomes this sedentary force.

    I would add that leaders must also “look around inside themselves” to make sure what they say and do during MBWA is not feeding the culture of staying the same.

    Best regards,
    Kate

  8. Hi Joan. This is a great (and timely) post! Your three principles are easy for all leaders to implement. And I am a huge believer in what Dick Brown says about culture. If a leader doesn’t like what he or she is seeing … then look inside to see what he or she is doing. Thanks for your insight!

    • Thank you Susan for your thougts about the easyness to implement. On the condition of course like you mention that you are willing to make a partner of your worst ennemy like Nelson Mandela suggest. And the worst ennemy is yourself.

      Kind regards,

      Joan

  9. Joan – really on the money for me! I’ve practised MBWA for years and I know it pays huge dividends in creating a positive culture. I also firmly believe in the power of storytelling, which linked to the language used within organisations, is also a critical part of cultural development, especially when this emanates from the apex leader. Excellent post – thank you for sharing. :)

  10. Joan, you nailed it! Clear, concise, and actionable. Thanks for the excellent tips for creating the right kind of culture.

    • Thank you Dan to reassure me that it is actionable for leaders to implement those principles. I am always trying to be as practibale as possible when troaching leadership development programs.

      Have a nice WE,

      Joan

  11. Thank you for scooping this post.
    Joan

Trackbacks

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  5. [...] Peter Drucker, often considered the inventor and  father of modern management stated, “Culture eats strategy for…” [FULL POST] [...]

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