‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, technology for lunch, and products for dinner, all of this without a burp – while building a case for it’s veracity & impact, validating it with data & HR Analytics, we also attempt to trace the origin of this significant premise, over the course of this read. (Also see, HR Analytics Case studies, Organizational Dysfunctions & HBR featured The Culture Factor)
Finding the trails of iconic ‘Culture eats Strategy’ maxim – Management Trivia
Starting with ‘Culture beats strategy’ (it’s not culture eats strategy, there is a ‘b’ in there), now that has been around since 2000, cited in some of works by Thomas W. Lloyd (see Google Scholar: Culture eats strategy). However, Lloyd doesn’t stake the claim to have originated the phrase at all. Instead, building on it as a fundamental, he concludes that failed mergers and restructurings of the 1980s and early 1990s “taught change-management gurus to share slogans like: ‘Culture beats strategy.’
Tracing the focus on culture, it was Edgar Schein, MIT psychology professor, who notably his 1985 book ‘Organizational Culture & Leadership’, writes: “culture determines and limits strategy”. Although, driving home, the wisdom similar to Culture eats Strategy, its succinctly expressed, sans the intensity (& satire) in its present form.
There are few other trails, for different renditions of the phrase, ‘culture trumps strategy’, which has been attributed to Jack Welsh, Former General Electric CEO. Another one being, ‘culture > strategy’, and both of them seem to have been a public-domain idea, independently quoted by multiple thinkers over many years.
Coming back to ‘Culture eats Strategy’ phrase, origin of the quote appears to be Mark Fields, at Ford Motor Company, in 2006, who attributed it to Peter Drucker (However, it’s not stated in it’s current form in Drucker’s own writing, at least in the forms that are searchable). Being said that, it was Drucker, who put a firm case that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with it’s culture. Drucker did quote Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.”
So, taking some lessons from Drucker’s prescription (in addition to , let’s just work with what we have, and give it to Drucker for pronouncing from his timeless wisdom, that culture eats strategy !
The Client organization, a high growth organization, has defined their cultural premise (& expected behaviors critical for success) to be driven by learning, creative and innovative (Also see, Organizational Stages & Presets: Why a lot of successful organization often under-achieve?). Defining it is one thing & putting it into practice & part of the gratification model is altogether another. From our discussions & initial dataset provided (included motivational inventory scores, employee performance, HRIS data, employee engagement etc.), we pointed out that there existed anomalies, which were creating talent pipeline problems, by design.
The dataset pointed out that employees who were creative and innovative were leaving the organization, it means that something was not right (this correlated with dip in revenues per employee, effecting the culture eats strategy axiom) by design. Furthermore, the data revealed that employees who are more likely to stay had motivation for power & recognition. These revelations were a good starting point to revisit organizational practices, realigning the culture and human capital practices.
Dataset obtained from client
From the dataset provided, we mapped the grade of each employee (active & attrited) and scores per each of 16 motivational drivers:
|Sr. No||Motivational Attribute||Critical to Business||Priority|
|1||Perfection (strive to do your work perfectly)||Yes||4|
|2||Self-realization (to build a successful career)||No|
|3||Autonomy (don’t depend on anyone, to be free to choose how to do your work)||Yes||3|
|4||Serving (to provide great customer service)||Yes||5|
|5||Affiliation (willingness to be an important part of a professional group)||No|
|6||Stability (to be confident in tomorrow)||No|
|7||Recognition (to be valuable and professionally recognized)||No|
|8||Support (to be sure that colleagues support you)||Yes||6|
|9||Innovation (to be creative)||Yes||2|
|10||Atmosphere (to have good emotional climate at work)||No|
|11||Wellbeing (to feel comfort and joy at work)||Yes||8|
|12||Contribution to society (to be responsible to society)||No|
|13||Power (to make big decisions, when everybody depends on you)||No|
|14||Achievements (moving the needle successfully)||Yes||1|
|15||Development (to learn something new, to develop skills continuously)||Yes||7|
|16||Financial wellbeing (to be financially secure)||No|
Does Culture eats Strategy for breakfast in this case ??
Applying statistical analysis to the subsetted dataset (16 motivation drivers & 1 attrition), it became clear that 4 motivational drivers show more or less good discriminative ability (statistical significance): Perfection (p-value<0.001!), Serving, Affiliation and Stability. While each motivational driver is measured by a discrete 10-point scale and considering the small dataset we had, to identify patterns, we aggregated each motivational scale to quartiles, and this is what showed up: A beautiful picture, not just worth thousand words, but also thousand insights.
For“Perfection”, the less score on this motivational scale the higher attrition rate. However for lesser significant motivation drivers of “Serving”, “Stability”. & “Affiliation”, it works the other way around: the higher the score, higher the attrition rate. Other motivational drivers don’t seem to have the ability to explain the variability in attrition rate — maybe we will find something when we’ll collect more data.
Looking at the model results, we can definitely infer that the organizational culture is more skewed towards “Perfection” ,“Serving”, “Stability” and ‘Affiliation’, in that order, as against the intended & desirable one, which drawing from motivational attributes table, should be Achievements, Innovation, Autonomy etc, in the priority order as mentioned. Infact, the currently exhibited attributes are conflicting to the desired ones & definitely be having counterproductive effects on business & organizational performance.
To conclude, validated with datasets, culture eats strategy for a hearty breakfast in the referenced case, calling for reflections & deliberated corrections over time.