What’s all this ‘who eats who for breakfast’ stuff?

baco eggs

Breakfast jokes abound and I am often reminded often of the parable of the Pig and the Chicken:

When it comes to a good bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed!

Every journalist loves soundbites.  They sell.  The shorter and pithier (if that’s a word) the better.  And running a close second to journalistic soundbites are business soundbites, otherwise known as clichés about work, business and organisational life.

Here’s a short list of some memorable business soundbites:

  • The buck stops here.  ~US President Harry Truman
  • What get’s measured gets done!  ~Peter Drucker
  • The team with the best players wins.  ~former GE CEO Jack Welch
  • Just Do It!  ~Nike
  • It’s the Real Thing!  ~Coca Cola
  • If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.  ~Tom Peters

And recently Corporate Culture has taken the pole position among business writers and consultants, with its own plethora of clichés.  The most frequently quoted being:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast!

The original quote, supposedly attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, meant that corporate culture can thwart even the best business strategy if the two are not aligned and mutually supportive. The strategy providing the focus and objectives and the culture being the employee capabilities, attitudes and behaviours used to deliver on the strategy.

But like most good clichés, it has been twisted to mean; “culture is more important than strategy”!

Then the business people got upset and reversed the statement:  “Strategy eats culture for breakfast!”  After all, companies spend far more time on developing and implementing strategy in order to beat the competition than they do on their internal corporate culture.

It’s all BS! (that’s a technical term)

Think of it this way.  A culture not aligned with the strategy will slow down and often derail the effective execution of even the best business strategies.  The classic failure of the AOL – Times Warner merger or the attempt of British Airways to develop a low-cost carrier are great examples.

On the other hand, a strong culture cannot make up for a poor business strategy. No matter how hard they try, large global banks have a difficult time winning at both Investment and Retail banking at the same time.

So, let’s get real.  Culture and strategy are  interdependent and mutually supportive.  It’s not one or the other, it’s both.  That’s why I tell my clients:

Culture and Strategy have breakfast together, then they go to work!

Posted by:

John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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