2 Ways to Undermine Your Strategy

Published March 25, 2019

You’ve likely heard the quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Most of us understand that culture is important. We even subscribe to axioms such as “People are your greatest asset.” We give lip service to the importance of culture, but when we’re pursuing organizational growth, we focus our efforts on strategic plans, setting audacious goals and implementing the systems and structures to support them.

I’m a believer in strategic plans. As a certified strategic planner working with organizations on their strategies for growth, I repeatedly see two key areas that are overlooked in the pursuit of growth–purpose and culture. If you can picture the bell curve of organizational life, we all aspire to go “up and to the right” as quickly as possible.

The weight of success will be crushing if we are not attending to our purpose and culture.

Play building blocks with any toddler and they will default to building as tall as they can as quickly as they can. I don’t think this desire is wrong. In fact, I think it’s in our nature. We are wired to grow things. God’s instruction in the book of Genesis post-creation was to “Fill the Earth and subdue it.” That’s an implication to grow.

Going back to our bell curve, think for a moment about what supports this movement upward.

I picture it as a set of stair steps undergirding this curve and each one of those steps is a key facet of organizational development that we must attend to.

In 2 Ways to Undermine Your Strategy, it starts with Purpose, then moves to Culture, and grows to Strategy.

The steps in ascending order are:

  • Purpose
  • Culture
  • Strategy

Step 1: Purpose is foundational. It is the biggest step and shoulders the most weight. It’s the “why” behind everything we do and is comprised of mission, vision and values. Without a keen sense of purpose, we will crush under the weight of responsibility as we scale up.

Step 2: Culture is comprised of leadership development as well as team dynamics. It starts with our personal growth as a leader and extends to how we cultivate the development of our teams. This step builds upon purpose in that you’re helping a team of people personally and collectively behave in congruence with the purpose of the organization.

Step 3: Strategy is often where I see leaders spend disproportionate amounts of time and energy. Eager to identify outcomes and accomplish audacious goals, they quickly pursue the strategies that will make those goals possible only to have spent a significant budget on building a strategic plan that sits in a binder on a shelf and is the brunt of staff jokes.

The graph gives us a visual of the reality of the importance of the two critical steps that precede strategy.

Leaders often call me when their repeated attempts at strategy are not resulting in growth. Their eye is on the top of the bell curve. With a quick assessment of the organization, I typically identify issues in either or both of the first two steps.

In pursuit of a grand goal, the organization may have lost touch with its core mission. In Simon Sinek’s 2018 Global Leadership Summit session The Infinite Game, he referred to this as a “just cause.” If an organization does not keep their “just cause” front and center, they will flounder.

Additionally, as the whirlwind of organizational life accelerates, time spent in culture, leadership development and team dynamics may take a back seat. The demands of a fast-moving organization racing toward growth often squeeze out the very thing that provide life and energy to the team.

I experienced this personally in one of the organizations that I led. When I started we were a small team of five making it easy to spend time together learning, growing and building trust. As we grew, it seemed we didn’t have time for relational connection. Team building efforts or leadership training did not feel like the most valuable use of our time.

While strategy is important, a consistent focus on core purpose and culture is essential. The weight of success will be crushing if we are not attending to our purpose and culture.

In fact, the steps undergirding our organizational growth are not linear. Attending to all three areas of organizational life is more like living on a stair climber. You are continuously moving up and down these steps adding in important blocks that continue to support the growth and development of your organization.

Culture does eat strategy for breakfast and purpose eats culture for lunch.

Are there fractures in the purpose or culture of your organization? Here are some questions for you and your team to consider to help you diagnose where you need to direct energy during this season.

  • Do you have defined mission, vision and values?
  • Do you frequently refer to mission, vision and values in conversations, meetings and decision-making?
  • Does your team enjoy being together?
  • Do you have a process for ongoing development of staff?
  • Do you handle conflict well?
  • Do you trust one another?

If you didn’t answer a resounding yes to those questions, your most strategic efforts will be clarifying your purpose and cultivating your culture.

These steps are the building blocks to your success.

Culture does eat strategy for breakfast and purpose eats culture for lunch.

If you want to have any dinner, you need to understand the organizational food chain.

About the Author
Jenni Catron

Jenni Catron

Writer, Speaker & Leadership Expert

The 4Sight Group

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker and leadership expert committed to helping others lead from their extraordinary best. A leader who loves “putting feet to vision,” she has served on the executive leadership teams of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, CA, and Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Outreach Magazine has recognized Jenni as one of the 30 emerging influencers reshaping church leadership. She is the author of several books, including her latest The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.