Culture as Strategy

No doubt you have heard the expression “culture eats strategy for breakfast” or something similar. And basically it’s true. You can have the best, well crafted strategy but it will only be effective if the culture of the organization can and will support its implementation.

Culture is not usually identified as something we explicitly craft strategy about. We do that indirectly because any strategy that is about change will challenge the beliefs, norms, and relationships in an organization.  Cultural change in those instances is more a byproduct of strategy than an intentional effort to change who we are, what we believe, or what we stand for.


There are at least two types of cultural strategies to consider. One is all about undertaking deliberate actions to achieve a new or enhanced norm in the organization. The other type is about digging deep to understand the key cultural enablers of the organization and taking explicit actions to preserve, enhance or expand on them.

What are cultural enablers? They are a blend of values, beliefs, and actions so fundamental to the identify of the organization they manifest naturally. They make up the atmosphere the organization breathes.  

One of my clients identified its multi-disciplinary approach as one of its key cultural enablers. Its emergence as a “way of being” was actually tracked through the histogram approach mentioned in the posting below.

Through conversation we could see when and where and how the organizations’s multi-disciplinary approach surfaced first as a challenge, then a proto-typed approach, and then over time became engrained in the organization’s DNA. 

Strategies often change because of environmental shifts, a funder’s change of mind, or a change in government. An organization’s culture is less vulnerable to such shifts; however, in turbulent times understanding our cultural enablers will help to hold us steadfast to who we are and what we stand for, despite strategies that come and go.

Originally Published in our May 2011 e-newsletter.

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