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Someone suggested to me that culture precedes strategy.  Should culture preceed strategy? I understand why think that, but I am not at all convinced.  First however we need to dispel the  myth that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Culture only eats strategy when there is a poor strategy for chaning culture

I believe that this idea simply means that your strategy for culture change is weak, poor or non-existant.

I’ll say that again: Your strategy for changing the culture is simply inadequate.

Why do I believe that: because I have interviewed 20 executives who transformed their organisation’s performance, by EXPLICITLY transforming the culture.

We don’t need more research: we simply need to listen and learn from those that are already doing it (Or you can read about it in my book when it comes out).

Here is a longer blog post on how to avoid culture eating your strategy for breakfast.

What about the sequence of choosing culture before strategy?

Richard Rumult, one of my favourite strategy authors, describes the strategy process as a) diagnosis and characterisation b) guiding policy choice c) coherent actions. (and I think he is right with an extension of also learning )

Therefore I would place a choice of values (and a chosen culture but see my caveat) in policy choice, the second part, choosing guiding policies.

But where does culture come from?

HOWEVER, the actual culture comes from the behaviours of executives and managers. They can espouse whatever they like, but the culture they actually create is a consequence of their actions. (See Chris Argyris for espoused vs in action)

Culture comes from the  learnt behaviours that get embedded in organisations.

So the actual culture follows with strategy implementation. Culture gets created during the coherent actions.

You can choose what culture you want to create, the policies, to solve particular problems, and you can decide to create that culture alongside your other strategy implementation actions.

It is a component, not a pre-cursor.

So if you want to change your culture and strategy, together…

then get in touch.

“Ah but you can’t change the culture of an established organisation…”

That is what one of the contributors to the discussion suggested.  He disagreed, suggesting it was not possible for a company that had been going for say 25 years to change it culture.

My reaction: “You can disagree all you like , but an organisation can choose its culture, just as it chooses its markets, customers, products, positioning, source of competitiveness.”

Yes, these are  all choices.

Sure, these things can take a while to change. Changing culture usually involves sacking a load of people who won’t change, just as changing a market involves discarding a old products.

I have plenty of examples from my clients, my work and my interviews where Chief Executives have done just that. Commercial world and public sector.

How long? Initial impact and changes in 3-6 months, More significant and deeper changes in 6-18 months. Longer times sometimes 3 years, depending how embedded the old culture and behaviours are.

But it is not impossible. Choosing not to change the culture is as explicit a choice as choosing to change it.