Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch!"

"There's a saying," he said.

"Culture eats strategy for lunch."

Never heard that one before. Hmm. The man who said it was an entrepreneurial type and had been involved in starting a for-profit business development strategy in a very poor country in Asia - Bangladesh, I think?

Sitting down with the executives of the denominational mission agency with which he was associated, he asked how they wanted to relate to the new endeavor. "Oh, we're going to spin you off," the leaders said. Why would they deliberate distance themselves from this cool new thing? For its own protection... Because culture eats strategy for lunch.

What these ministry leaders had discovered - no doubt the hard way - was that mission agencies tend to operate according to a culture - and set of assumptions, practices, and expectations - which rarely meet the needs of a new business start-up, and may handicap it instead.

I've been wondering how far this principle extends. Seems like the greatest strategy can easily be destroyed by the culture in which it operates, if it does not accommodate and adjust to that culture - or find a way to get out of it. You have to pick your battles, after all.

How easy it is to get wrapped up in a plan, approach, project, or strategy without recognizing the external factors that will threaten or squash it - or shape and inform it. Just because you have a great idea doesn't mean it's going to work in its real-life context. What is it going to cost? How much time will it take? What is it competing with? Who will oppose it? Whose support is necessary for it to succeed? We could save ourselves a lot of heartache and disappointment if we honestly explored those kind of questions and responded wisely to obstacles and setbacks.
"Leaders don’t hide from the truth. The pain of discovery is the first step on the path to change. If you are going to fear anything, fear not knowing the truth about what’s happening around you." (Andy Stanley, The Next Generation Leader)


Shane said...

Hey Marti,

Are you reading Next Gen Leadership? It's the next book for our interns. I just got a box of them, but haven't cracked mine open. Maybe if you posted a detailed review, I wouldn't have to read it. ;-)


Marti said...

I have a copy, studied it with a group - could probably do that pretty easily. Not that you shouldn't read it, my friend! It's a pretty quick read. And maybe one that could spark discussion, in that it would help people identify their own experience or expectations through it.

I still owe you a detailed review on N.T. Wright, don't I? (Hmm. Looks like you've got me wrapped around your finger, Shane!)