As best as I can figure, management megastar Peter Drucker (1909-2005) never actually said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Or “for breakfast.”
He did come up with many clever, pithy, worthy and sometimes contrarian business- and leadership-related pronouncements over his storied career as a consultant, teacher, philosopher and — yes — reporter. The proclaimed “inventor of modern management” argued for “the rightness of rational action,” and “Management is about human beings.”
And on occasion he offered Very Deep concepts. “Management always deals with the nature of Man, and with Good and Evil,” for example.
But I’ve looked, and I don’t believe he ever said that thing about culture being more important than strategy — or lunch or breakfast.
The thought sometimes is written in tidy shorthand, thus: Culture > strategy.
Drucker did say: “Objectives are not fate; they are direction.” Which is close, but no actual, smoking cigar.
No matter who said it, though, consider what it suggests. It does not contend you shouldn’t have a plan. As President Dwight Eisenhower (or maybe it was George Patton) may or may not have said, a bad plan is better than no plan.
God, after all, is in the details (an observation often attributed to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe — but he probably didn’t say it).
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Because here’s the thing: You can have a great strategy/product/mission, but you’re sunk if your people don’t want to pull the wagon. Culture > strategy.
Plan to haul all the barrels of whatever to the factory you want, but if the horses don’t feel like pulling the wagon, well, you’re stuck out in the middle of the road. (That was me who said that.)
I’m not suggesting we should go too far with this. While businesses have been talking about this good culture/bad culture approach for a number of years now, we shouldn’t confuse it with the notion that work should be fun 24 hours a day, eight days a week. (They wouldn’t have to pay us then, would they?)
So I guess where I land in all this is we need both strategy and good culture in the workplace. Just not in even percentages.
While you might keep the roof on with a solid strategy and poor culture for a time, eventually the continual churn of unhappy and unfulfilled employees will wear away at the foundation.
And then the bottom will drop out.
As Peter Drucker didn’t say, Kersplat!