You’ve heard it quoted 1,000 times.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
The point (with which we agree) is that culture will drive your organization’s behavior and influence your success far more than the very best strategic plan.
If that’s true, why do organizations spend bazillions of dollars and bazillions of hours on strategic plans (many of which are not especially strategic), and pretty much zilch on culture?
It’s a problem equally true in the private sector. Last year Harvard Business Review devoted a cover story to organizational culture and made the following observation:
“…it is far more common for leaders seeking to build high-performing organizations to be confounded by culture. Indeed, many either let it go unmanaged or relegate it to the HR function, where it becomes a secondary concern for the business.”
So what’s the problem?
We think the problem is that to influence culture you need to deal with complexity. The do-gooder world is maddeningly complex. A nonprofit is maddeningly complex. And by definition, you can neither control nor accurately predict the outcomes of complex environments.
Put another way – we keep trying to use Newtonian logic to steer a quantum universe. Strategic plans are for the most part Exhibit A — proof of this habit.
An organization’s culture is the epitome of a complex system. You can’t control it. You can’t predict the outcome of any specific intervention. Your best bet is to try to influence the conditions in which the culture might evolve in a positive direction.
If reading that last paragraph made your brain hurt, I admit it hurt to write it. But it explains why leaders rarely launch culture interventions. And it explains why, when leaders do launch them, they rarely succeed.
There’s no escaping complexity. In the parlance the old dish soap commercial, you’re soaking in it. Success in 2019 will require a new suite of leadership skills rarely taught in B-schools. It will require training in emotional intelligence and personal resilience. And if you ask brilliant organizational gurus Doug Silsbee or Jennifer Garvey-Berger, it will require you to evolve.
The good news is none of this is impossible.
Where to start? Doug’s and Jennifer’s books, linked above will give you some idea of what the future looks like and how you can train yourself to navigate it.
Meanwhile, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I’m gonna guess that culture eats something way more nutritious than strategy. But maybe that’s just me.