Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch & Dinner!

Guest post from Fardad Fateri:

There are thousands of business books and many of them are excellent so we knew from the outset writing yet another business book would get little to no attention. But we were passionate about our topic and we believed we had a great story to tell, a story that was grounded in academic research, a story that was lived by thousands of people over a ten year period and not formulated in an office at a university. We had a story that was anchored in research and tested in real life in an organization we led…that made our story unique. 

Igor Ansoff  is known as the father of strategic management. He is most known for the concept of environmental turbulence; the contingent strategic success paradigm, a concept that has been validated by numerous research studies; and real-time strategic management. Peter Drucker invented the concept known as management by objectives and self-control. He has been described by peers as “the founder of modern management”.  Drucker believed organizational culture is the most powerful force in ensuring organization success and his phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is now used globally to demonstrate the power of organizational culture. 

Our curiosity about culture and strategy led to a few questions. What is the relationship between corporate culture and strategy? What is the importance of strategy versus the importance of culture in driving success in an organization? Do culture and strategy play different roles in the development of an organization at different times of an organization’s lifecycle? 

Strategy, at its most fundamental level, is rational, intuitive, logical, clear and simple. Every member of an organization should understand it and talk about. Without a simple, well-delineated strategy, a company will get lost. Organizational culture, on the other hand, is complex, dynamic, emotional, ever-changing, and fluid. Culture by its very nature is alive, diverse, people-focused, not easily quantifiable, and changes with the addition of any new member. Culture is an incredibly powerful influence in a company’s long-term success. No matter how fantastic a strategy really is, when compared against values and human beings, people always make the difference. No one will ever contest the notion that ultimately people are the true separators in any organization. Hence, we also believed the only way to win consistently, we had to focus mostly on values and organizational culture.

To test our belief that culture does indeed trump strategy, approximately ten years ago, we deliberately created a culture in our organization that actively promotes and encourages accountability, humility, vulnerability, fun, grit, ownership, empowerment, vigor, excellence, hard work, family, competitiveness, integrity, quality, honesty, superior customer experience and other values that together create the making of a great organizational culture. Our strategy was similar to many other organizations within the same space.  Our belief, however, was that our separator would be our culture as we knew with our culture we could execute relentlessly and produce peak performance.

Organizational culture had made all the difference. Our culture has allowed us to grow dramatically with quality and integrity—more than many similar organizations in the same economic sector—and to survive periods of turbulence and extreme difficulty. Because of our culture, we’re able to continuously learn, reinvent ourselves and to improve. While many of our competitors were shutting down, declaring bankruptcy, and dismantling, we continued to persist.

We knew we were perfectly imperfect. Though we face challenges, mistakes, and problems, we continue to learn, evolve, and improve every single day. Because of our culture, we share the same values and we operate as one organization committed to core values, to our thesis, and most importantly, to our customers.

Our conclusion was and still remains that culture does indeed eat strategy for lunch and dinner!

Fardad Fateri is CEO of International Education Corporation, one of the largest private postsecondary career education systems in North America. Dr. Fateri writes & speaks frequently on organizational culture & career education. He completed his education at University of California, and Harvard University. He is the author of  “ACulture Of Discipline: The Art, Discipline, and Practice of BreakthroughLeadership”.

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