Why culture eats strategy for breakfast

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Given the choice, I’ll always opt for breakfast out. I love starting my day connecting with friends and colleagues over a good cup of coffee. So, I’m not particularly keen on my favorite meal being thrown under the bus when it comes to strategy!

To add insult to injury, the phrase was galvanized by one of my heroes, Peter Drucker, who coined “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Welp, he was right—it does. With a side of hashbrowns.

But why is that, and what’s it even really mean?

Honing your culture to fuel your strategy

Drucker didn’t mean that strategy was unimportant – rather that a powerful and empowering culture is a surer route to organizational success. Organizations engage in strategic planning work… A LOT. But I don’t think it’s because they love it. No, the real motivation is in creating impact, meaning, or change. And, while I also love planning (almost as much as breakfast), it’s culture that gives it the juice.

So before you get your flip chart and markers out, give some thought to the critical role culture plays in helping your organization succeed. Then, at your next retreat, invest as much time on culture as you do on the tactical and analytic. Here are a few reasons why intentional culture will help you succeed when paired with a killer strategy:

  • Culture shapes behavior: Your organization’s culture is the foundation of how employees behave and interact with each other, clients, donors, and stakeholders. Even the best strategy will fall short if the culture doesn’t align with the company’s values and goals.
  • Culture drives engagement: A positive and intentional culture creates an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and engaged. Engaged employees are more productive, committed to your mission, and more likely to stay with the organization. It’s that powerful!
  • Culture creates a competitive advantage: A strong culture can differentiate an organization from its competitors. It can attract top talent, create a loyal donor base, and build a reputation that sets the organization apart from others in the same industry.
  • Culture fosters innovation: An intentional culture can encourage innovation and risk-taking. When employees feel safe to try new things and fail without fear of punishment, they’re more likely to generate new ideas and solutions.
  • Culture is sustainable: An organization’s culture is a long-term investment that can withstand changes in leadership, ecosystem conditions, and business strategies. It’s the foundation that supports an organization’s success and keeps it moving forward.

Each of these ideas strengthens culture that, in turn, activates and advances strategy. But, watch out, the inverse is also true. A culture left unattended or that rewards negative behavior can have an equally potent effect. The real secret to culture is behavior. Think of it as a lovely garden—you can’t simply “set it and forget it.” It’s alive, it needs nutrients and water, and mostly it needs everyone to be willing to pull weeds when they crop up—because they will.

Just as you don’t judge your garden for having a few weeds from time to time, the same is true for your culture. Cultivate it, care for it, and tend to it so it doesn’t get hungry.

And gobble up your strategy as the first meal of the day.


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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