Life Lesson #9: Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

This is a topic we have reflected on before, but it is a topic that never ages. The idea that culture is more important than strategy is derived from the teachings of one of the first management gurus, Peter Drucker, although he never actually used the specific words “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The essence of the idea is derived from the generally held view that business success depends 20% on planning and 80% on execution. Strategy involves planning whilst culture drives execution. 

The simplest definition of culture is “the way we do things”.

Most ethnic groups have strong cultures that often differentiate them from each other. Many of these cultural practices go back hundreds and even thousands of years. In many cases, cultural practices are religiously followed without ever questioning them. Cultural practices are extremely strong. 

Culture is skin to an invisible power that work an inside people to drive a certain (often unique) way of doing things. The same applies to business organisations. The culture of a business drives the behaviour of its people. 

All organisations have cultures, either by design or by default. If the leaders in an organisation fail to design and develop a healthy, high performance culture, it will end up with a culture that defaults to the attributes of the strongest personalities. The problem with a personality driven culture is that people have flaws. It also creates a vacuum when the strong person leaves the organisation. It is therefore far better to design and develop a healthy, high performance culture that outlives personalities. 

MiWay’s culture is built around its 5 core values, namely Freedom, Accountability, Attitude, Energy and Professionalism.

The origin of a values-based culture by design goes back to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article I read more than 20 years ago. The first company I worked for had a toxic culture that eventually prompted me to leave. Experiencing the effect of a toxic culture in an organisation first-hand triggered a life-long pursuit of studying and cultivating (as far as it was within my power) a strong and healthy organisational culture. 

According to the HBR article, a value is “a deep-down belief about what is right or wrong, that drives a person’s behaviour”. When I reflected on that definition, the penny dropped. Business success depends 80% on execution. Execution depends on behaviour. Behaviour is driven by values. Values are the building blocks of culture. It was like a light that went on in my head. Since that day I became a culture zealot. I am fanatical about a values-based organisational culture. I have a deep conviction that a strong, healthy, performance-based culture is a differentiator that is almost impossible to copy. As long as I have any influence I will continue to work tirelessly to drive MiWay’s values-based culture. We don’t always get it right, but it defines who and what we are and what we stand for. And over time it becomes part of our DNA. 

We should all treasure our values-based culture by firstly living the values and secondly promoting it every day. 

So, whether Drucker used the actual words or not, I have no doubt that culture eats strategy for breakfast. 

Have a fantastic values-driven day! 

Stay blessed,
René Otto, CEO: MiWay Insurance Ltd

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