When Culture Eats Breakfast…

The management guru Peter Drucker coined the phrase “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” I think it’s pretty self-explanatory but the gist is that no matter how well you plan out strategy, if it conflicts with culture, then the latter will win out. You have to consider culture when considering strategy.

Now, an obvious question, and the one I ponder today, is what happens when culture runs counter to your needed goals (which is more immediate than long-term strategy, obviously). The long-term answer is to continually tweak culture through messaging, signaling, language, actions, etc., until it allows for the goals to be met. But what if you’re in the moment and find the two butting heads?

I’d like to point out that this example is not about CalArts. It’s something inspired by conversations I’ve had with others, many at different institutions, and debated back and forth with those people.

For example, let’s say you have a policy, borne out of immediate necessity, that recommends but doesn’t require that people do X. Fill in the blank with whatever practice you wish. It’s a recommendation, not a requirement. You do allow, in your policy, for certain parties to make it an ad hoc requirement in certain settings, but you do not put any teeth behind it. You don’t enforce, and provide no recourse for those that need/want enforcement (you can insert various questions about squeaky wheels, minority opinions portraying themselves as majorities, whatever, here, if you wish, but please permit me to continue).

One option is to put some teeth behind it, but at a monetary cost (hiring staff, building out procedures, possibly investing in new technology to manage complaints, etc.) but, and this is the kicker, it runs counter to culture. The other, more sensitive option, is to stick to not enforcing things because your environment is not aligned with one that involves calling others out, getting people in trouble, etc. The culture is that it’s a free and expressive space without people pointing fingers or accusing each other of things, so tactics (in this case) and certainly strategy is “eaten for breakfast.”

So what does one do? Do you anger many by creating an environment contrary to long-standing culture because of an urgent situation? Do you frustrate and perhaps anger a different population by offering a policy with no enforcement (which is, as a colleague at another institution said, consequently just a suggestion)?

I don’t have an answer, though I’d love one of the 0 people that will read this to make a suggestion. Again, the long-term answer is clearer. Stronger (but not insensitive) central administration that is supportive of but does give way to (what will become) previous culture. Messaging that we do some things for the larger purpose to bettering this or that, followed up by action to that effect (this has worked for us in IT as we slowly shift the perception towards needing to pay more attention to information security). I’m sure there are many other tactics that I am not thinking of even if I wrote 3 more paragraphs about them. But if you’re faced with the short-term, here and now conflict, what might you do?

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