The great truism for us culture nerds is, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Often (though possibly incorrectly) attributed to the great Peter Drucker, it’s a simple enough idea, but completely misunderstood.
Because of this, even the great Adam Bryant gets it wrong.
Adam’s point is that culture and strategy are separate things. In the research and resulting work we have done at Gapingvoid, what we see is that Culture Design® is fundamentally about creating a culture that delivers your strategy.
The flameouts of Adam Neuman of WeWork, and Uber’s Travis Kalanick that Bryant mentions in his article aren’t framed correctly, in that these companies didn’t have bad cultures to start. The facts show that they were highly effective at scaling and creating massive value. But, as young leaders, these fellas were tone-deaf to the idea that as organizations grow, their identities have to be sculpted to align with new realities.
For example, “Always be Hustling” might be totally appropriate for a small, scrappy sales-driven company, where there is lots of supervision and few moving parts; but once the business reaches a certain scale, it is not hard to see how “Always be Hustling” becomes a pretty bad idea.
The point here is that cultures are designable and malleable. In order for a business to be agile, cultures must be designable; and cultures are intended to morph to meet the overarching strategy.
In this way, culture actually is the strategy you use to deliver the bigger picture, thus ‘culture does eat strategy’.
The elephant in the room, of course. is that most execs have no clue how to design and implement culture itself.
The good news is, this is changing.