Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

It’s been a while since I have posted, so please bear with me as I dust off the cobwebs.

As I normally do, early this morning I was perusing some industry articles when I came across an article about Ron Johnson.  Some of you may immediately know who he is, while others of you may not.  Mr. Johnson, formerly a VP in merchandising at Target, then SVP of Retail Operations at Apple, was elevated to the role of CEO by JC Penney in November 2011.

Ron was a bright star at Apple and was imagined to be “the one” that was going to turn JC Penney around.  Fast forward 17 months and he’s already out as CEO and failed in turning them around.  In fact, there were a few articles that said he may have actually left them in a worse place than they were before.

I’m linking an article from BUSINESS INSIDER called Ron Johnson’s Attempt To Fix JCPenney’s Brand Was Completely Backwards.

While there are certainly many speculations as to what actually happened under Johnson’s watch as to why they have performed the way they have, the thing that caught my eye about this article was the fact that it ties BRAND to CULTURE.  And in this case (as the article outlines), Johnson’s desire to change JCP’s brand failed because he failed to change the culture of the company, build up belief, and rally the troops.

I think this brings up an interesting discussion.  When we make business decisions, where does organizational culture fit into our thought processes and how important is it?

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart International, penned a great statement about cultural beliefs and behaviors last November.  He said, “Our culture defines HOW we deliver on our purpose consistently over time. People sometimes think that “culture” is a soft concept – but it’s not. Our culture is the set of beliefs that dictate the way we behave.”

Some companies have stronger and more pronounced organizational culture than others (like at Walmart), but back to the question.  How does that play in to our decision making and development of direction?

I believe that when we build strategies it is imperative that we consider and align to our cultural beliefs.  Why?  Read the article about Johnson and JCP. 

When we build visions, strategies, and tactics that don’t align to our culture, the chance of failure is high.  And beyond failure of the strategy, is the damage that causes internally to the organization by trying to run counter to culture.  When we build the same in alignment with culture, we gain the advantage of momentum, belief, understanding, and energy (among other things), which leads to a higher likelihood of success.

One of my favorite cultural statements (I believe originally coined by Peter Drucker, but used often by many), is that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, which is a quick toss back to the fact that if you try to build things that run counter to your culture, you’re not going to make it to the finish line.

Now there is always the question of “can you change culture?”, and the answer is yes.  But there is a very long and deliberate process that an organization must go about to accomplish that successfully.

So where do you fit in to all of this?  You may be thinking, “I don’t build strategies at that level – so this doesn’t apply to me.”

1.        TODAY – Regardless of where you sit today, you likely have the opportunity to INFLUENCE vision, strategy, or tactics.  And I believe it’s important that we always have our eye on whether ‘ ‘why’,  ‘what’ and ‘how’ we do things aligns with who we are as a company and our purpose.  If it doesn’t, it’s important that we raise our hand.  Sometimes we are able to see things from our perspective that others wouldn’t have or didn’t, which can help the company avoid future heartache.  Example:  At Walmart, one of our core beliefs is to Act with Integrity.  Are we building our strategies with the utmost integrity in mind?

2.       TOMORROW – You are our future leaders.  Understanding the importance that culture plays in your decision making, vision casting, and strategy development is critical to your future success, the success of your teams, and the success of the company.

What do you think?  How much does your organization’s culture play in to your decisions?

Have a great week!  Lead Strong!

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