Growth Insights for CEOs

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Has Your Company Failed to Order the Breakfast of Champions?

Posted by Gary Fassak


You are a hard-working, dedicated CEO who wants to grow your company – so you have taken the necessary steps to understand your market and develop insights about growth opportunities. You have even transformed those insights into a cohesive strategy, and worked with your team on a successful execution plan. What’s more, you have metrics and milestones galore.

Congratulations! You’re ready to grow! …Right?

Not so fast.

You’ve probably already heard Peter Drucker’s signature phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Truly, without culture, organizations are starved of food for thought (fresh ideas) because they have failed to lay a foundation where those ideas can develop and produce market innovation. With this much at stake, how can you make sure culture helps your company grow instead of standing in the way?

Here are three questions to ask to make sure you hit the growth culture trifecta:

Growth Trifecta #1: Have you enrolled your team?

Go beyond the details and insight you’ve already explained about your growth plan to the team. Have you enrolled them in your vision? Enrollment means that your employees go beyond understanding the plan and agree that they have an emotional and personal stake in the outcome. It matters to them to the point where they will join in and pursue the vision for the company.

The catch is, enrollment can either help or hurt your growth plan. Let’s say you’re the leader of a non-profit and you’re running a service business. Parking to take advantage of your service is very difficult for customers and consistently comes up as the number one negative experience in feedback surveys. However, the best parking (meaning the closest and most convenient) is consistently filled by the employees, who typically arrive before opening.

You have a great idea – just like many for-profit services like restaurants, the employees could begin to park in the back of the lot, allowing the customers the best parking spots. Unfortunately, because you failed to enroll the employees in the new process effectively, and your employees felt entitled to the spaces as a company perk, they met your announcement with backlash instead of cooperation. The only person not aware of a culture already in place – was you.

It’s not just about the employees, though. You need to enroll yourself, too, and be willing to set the example. One manufacturing company had a clear strategy of being a low-cost producer. Employees understood the strategy and knew that if the company did not achieve low-cost status, their jobs would be at stake. Yet, at industry conventions, company leaders entertained lavishly, spending the hard earned pennies from the factories – which undercut their strategy with employees. The leaders failed to enroll themselves – and in effect, failed to internalize a cultural norm for the rest of the team. Instead, capitalize on what you do well – and work on enrolling your entire organization into buying into it as well.

Growth Trifecta #2: Does your culture reward learning from mistakes?

Any strategy and growth plan is impacted by the marketplace as soon as execution starts. Do you enable your team to adapt in the spirit of growth? Jeff Bezos, for example, has built Amazon into an amazing process and data-driven machine.

When Amazon launched into India, Bezos quickly realized how decentralized retailing is there, and knew that the process-driven, step-by-step culture that had worked in the U.S. would not necessarily support growth in the East. So, he told his team that the growth plan would be similar, but that he wanted them to shift from being process driven, step-by-step engineers, to a “cowboy” culture (his word) that moved fast, made mistakes, and corrected them on the fly.

The “cowboy” culture took hold, and has achieved amazing results. In fact, the team in India now offers cowboy hats as an employee recognition prize! Bezos knows that culture eats strategy for breakfast. He kept his strategy, but adapted the culture – to achieve growth and success.

Growth Trifecta #3: Does your culture provide the support for the growth plan?

As CEO, you need to add culture to the insight, strategy and execution roadmap that you have diligently pursued. Lou Gerstner, the man who turned around IBM as its CEO, said it took him years to understand that “culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

Are you focusing on culture and actively enrolling the team? Are your allowing your staff to learn as they go – and supporting them as they drive the growth plan?

If you are, now you’re ready for Growth!

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Topics: Marketing Strategy, Culture, CEO Strategies, CEO Business Strategy

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