Corporate Culture 101: Why It Eats Strategy for Breakfast


Anyone who works in a group experiences the affects of corporate culture. In fact, people who participate in any regular, on-going group, whether a school, church, temple, club, family, business, or whatever – is a product of corporate culture.

Corporate culture, in a quick bite, is how we do things around here. It has nothing to do with rules or laws. It’s the way we, as members of this group, do it. For example, an owner, Mike, at a small transportation company, tells his employees, “My door is always open. Come talk to me with anything on your mind. Tell me about your ideas and your complaints. I want to know.”

However, Mike is always on the phone, with a customer, or yelling at someone, so it’s almost impossible to walk in to his office and really have his full attention. He is not a patient person. And when you do get his attention, he gives you the feeling, “this better be important and not a waste of time.” So, although Mike says communication is important, employees know that Mike is not really interested in what people have to say, so it’s better to keep your mouth shut. And that’s how they do it there.

The phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is attributed to Peter Drucker, who many herald as the single-biggest influence in management thinking ever, and in simple terms means: No matter how far reaching a leader’s vision or how brilliant the strategy, neither will be realized if not supported by an organization’s culture – that is, the commitment and dedication of the people who make it happen.

Culture needs constant attention and shaping, and without, grows like weeds – in any direction. The best place to start when creating and shaping corporate culture is with values – the behaviors that are so important we won’t settle for anything less. If you lead an organization, questions you might ask include:

  • W hat kinds of values need to be shown in the culture of our organization in the future in order to be most effective?
  • What kinds of values are members of our organization actually rewarded for showing in behavior now? What are they reprimanded for?
  • W hat kinds of values do our significant clients or customers expect? What’s important to them? And how would they rate us in meeting their expectations?
  • What are the non-negotiable behaviors that on which we would, or should, be willing to make hiring and firing decisions?

Zappos is a great example of how culture can be to success and profitability. Here’s an Internet shoe company that went from losing money in its first year, to earning over a billion dollars nine years later, and was then purchased by Amazon. The CEO says he attributes the company’s success 100 percent to its focus on creating a strong corporate culture. Go to and take a look at the values they proclaim to the world. And these are the same values all of their employees embrace every moment. Call them on the phone if you have a doubt.

Although changing corporate culture can be slow and even difficult, when you begin, you often see immediate positive results. Begin by putting your attention to human behaviors, and identify those that you want, and then look for every opportunity to recognize progress. Corporate culture can become an unstoppable engine of growth, and more sustainable than traditional techniques, like innovative marketing, brilliant strategic planning, cutting-edge technology, and deep pockets of money.

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