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!
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
Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
PS: John also writes thriller novels