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Is culture eating your strategy for breakfast - or sustaining it?

Updated: Feb 6

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Every private practice owner is trying to adjust and grow coming out of COVID – and unfortunately, most of those strategies are overlooking the importance of improving team culture. The question becomes “is culture eating your strategy for breakfast?” The quote by famed consultant/author Peter Drucker is not to say that strategy is unimportant – it speaks to how culture and strategy are connected and dependent on one another. When your culture is deliberately aligned with your strategy, you build a stronger and more sustainable business.

Unfortunately, it is far more common for leaders to dismiss culture. Harvard Business Review indicates leaders often let it go unmanaged – which is what I see in far too many private practices and small businesses. In a recent conversation with Scott Bullington, President of Integrated Medical Services, we discussed culture in small business and medical practices. Scott shared that “culture is a given. It will exist with or without your approval. How it exists is up to you, the owner, and whether it is cultivated in a way that is hazardous, or a way that is encouraging and valuable.”

We see leaders make this mistake for one of two reasons:

  1. Culture seems like an undefined and elusive topic – not clear like margins or expenses.

  2. They are unaware of the ways they can drive a culture that feeds their strategy.

How do you know if culture is eating your strategy for breakfast? The misaligned culture often creates symptoms like the following:

Staff commiserate rather than celebrate:

  • The staff share more connection on the problems they suffer through, rather than the successes they have created.

High turnover – turnover > 17% (national average in Nurses/MAs):

  • The staff seldom stay with you more than 2 years, which means your existing staff is constantly training new people while doing all the work.

False Positive – where the staff says “everything is fine”:

  • If the very staff executing your strategy is offering no “this would work better if we …” – the culture is a path of least resistance. Feedback to leadership means more work, so the team does not share feedback – they tell leadership that everything is fine.

Change initiatives fall flat:

  • Change initiatives start and then fizzle out with a return to the current state. Change means more work – and without incentive old habits and behaviors win.

As we continued discussing the how to correct a misaligned culture - Scott added “in a small business or medical practice culture must come from the business owner, the captain of the ship. It cannot be abdicated or even delegated. The owner must live out the desired culture so that those around her or him experience it in a way that is meaningful. Culture is not a word or phrase that can be mandated and then executed. It is a position of thought and being that must become intrinsic to everyone who will carry it out.”

Since 2015 organizations like Deloitte and Harvard Business Review have been highlighting the importance of culture in achieving sustainable performance from your organizations. In fact – in 2018 Deloitte reported that 82% of their Global Human Capital Trends respondents believe that “culture is a potential competitive advantage.”

Have you considered making your culture your competitive advantage?

Organizations like Gallop and Deloitte define culture as “the way things work around here.” When you think about that, you easily see how it includes some very specific things like employee behaviors, communication norms, and reward systems that impact your employee’s day-to-day work. We use the following formula to simplify culture for owners:

  • Common language is the business specific lingo used completing your staff’s day-to-day work.

  • Shared experiences are the moments together as a staff – either succeeding or failing.

  • Shared stories are just that – stories. People connect with stories. Either good or bad, your people have stories about their work at your business.

When a company’s culture is clearly aligned with their growth strategy, it drives performance and engagement from the team within the business. Both culture and strategy require leadership level commitment and strong support from their staff to understand, measure, and improve.

Now defined – you can identify the things that are helping or hurting your strategy for growth. Most importantly, you can design things in synch with the direction of your business.

If any of the symptoms in this article sound familiar in your business – your strategic work to drive growth could be getting consumed by a misaligned culture. Now the question is:

How will you apply this formula to drive a culture that supports your strategy?

Ryan Mainey

Founder, Lead Consultant @ Sales Transformations, LLC


  1. Culture and engagement, The naked organization by Marc Solow, Sonny Chheng, and Kathy Parker: Deloite Insights (February 27, 2015)

  2. Shape culture, Drive strategy by Marc Kaplan, Ben Dollar, Yves Van Durme, and 王大威: Deloitte Insights, (February 29, 2016)

  3. The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture, How to manage the eight critical elements of organizational life by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng From the Harvard Business Review Magazine (January–February 2018)

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