“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” – in businesses, homes, personal life, and societies – Episode 82

Photo: A pile of red, round, wooden Asian dolls with determined faces painted on them. Text: The Feel Good Factor Podcast, episode 82. "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast" – in businesses, homes, personal life, and societies

I recently read this quote by Peter Drucker about how the culture within an organisation trumps all strategies and plans that the leaders make. It goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

This essentially means, if the team culture is good, then plans tend to work. But any strategy, even a good one, becomes useless in the face of a crappy culture. It’s not so much about the ideas, but the people executing them — how they feel, their level of enthusiasm, their sense of ownership.

I believe the quote can be stretched to be applied to other facets of life too, not just business. Think of all the times we simply accept things because they’re the norm. We do stuff without even giving it a second thought because it’s just the way things happen.

That’s us unconsciously responding to the culture we exist in. It’s a process that feels a lot more smooth and natural than planning, strategising and executing, regardless of if it’s a good thing or not.

So in this episode, I’ve shared my perspectives on the immense power of nurturing a healthy culture in our businesses, homes, personal life, and society as a whole. As always, the thoughts are accompanied by real life examples and practical experiences.

Listen on the embedded player below, or on your preferred podcast platform. If reading is your jam, then scroll down for the transcript. Enjoy! 🙂

“What is happening from the top down? What are the leaders doing? The people who hold the most power, what are they following? What are they embracing? Watching them, the rest of the people will follow too… You can’t try to strategise into culture. That’s not how it works. It’s just something that you plant gently, and then nurture it, and let it grow. That’s the way culture works.”

Susmitha Veganosaurus – The Feel Good Factor Podcast

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Transcript of “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” – in businesses, homes, personal life, and societies

(gently edited for a better reading experience)

Hi. As you’re listening to this you’re probably either on holiday or planning for a holiday. Or even planning for upcoming festivities. Really, really busy with those.

I’m on holiday too. Well, I’m always on holiday when I choose to be, but it’s more like my husband’s on holiday from work. Both of us are big believers of staycation-ing. When we have a couple of weeks off, I know a lot of people plan some trips or visits or something to fill up those days. Both of us end up just sitting at home and doing a lot of binge watching.

Yeah there is some family time but when there are so many brilliant shows on all the OTT services like Netflix or Apple or Amazon Prime, there are so many great shows out there, such good quality content, it’s kind of hard to resist that.

I was actually very tempted to take off this week and next week, but the magical call of the podcast brought me back! But I have to say, next week I’m definitely taking a week off. So after this episode, I’ll be back in Jan.

So today’s episode is completely based on this really good, really thought provoking quote that I came across recently. It’s attributed to this guy called Peter Drucker. But as with most of these quotes that float around online, it may or may not have been said by him.

Either way, it’s brilliant. It goes…

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

When I read that for the first time, my mind was blown! Simple words, but oh my god, it makes so much sense.

Now this quote is often used in relation to business culture, or company culture. It’s related to work. But when you think about it, it actually applies to all other aspects of life too. Whether it’s the culture within your family and home, whether it is your personal culture, whether it is a societal culture. All of that, when you think of it, the culture is the most important thing. It’s the driving force.

And it’s not even that obvious, it’s something that just happens in the background. But if the culture sucks in any situation, if it’s really bad, then it doesn’t matter how much you strategise how many processes you have in place. None of that matters, because like the quote says, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and lunch and dinner and basically every meal.

In terms of the culture of a business

I have spoken about this so often on the podcast, I speak about how the community is very important. And community basically comes from the culture, right? A good community that surrounds your business. It’s powered by the culture that the brand, the organisation embodies.

And when I say embody, I truly mean embody it. Not just say it. A lot of organisations, especially in the conscious business circles, we have vision, we have values, and we say that we align with certain things, we are aligned to these values. But right from the management, from the executives, the owners, top down, you know, the leadership to all the employees, it has to start up there.

If they aren’t actually living by those values, and if they aren’t embracing the culture that they want to nurture within the company, then it’s never going to be accepted by, or followed by the rest of the team. So it has to be something that happens by example

When I had my restaurant, one of the things that most other people, most other businesses envied was our team

The food industry is a very attrition heavy industry. So people don’t last long in their jobs. They keep quitting and moving and shifting. That’s something that happens very, very commonly.

Especially so in the last five-ten years, where most of the employees, they’re part of a floating population. They’ve come from far away, they’ve moved to your city just to do this job. And for them there’s really nothing much holding them back to one place because if they never left their home and come so far away, so it doesn’t matter to them where they’re working as long as they’re happy there, or as long as they’re paid well and taken care of.

I have to admit that it wasn’t like we were the top paying organisation. I mean, we did the best we could, and we paid our team well, but I would say there were other businesses who seemed to be paying their employees more than us. But that didn’t matter because our team members, a lot of them, like most of them, stood by us. They stuck to us, and all of us worked together for years together.

That was something that surprised everybody else around. Especially people from other restaurant businesses, whether they’d be vegan restaurants or not. The fact that the same faces would be there every time they visited years together would totally surprise them. And people always wondered what our secret was.

Without really realising it, we had developed this really nurturing, really positive, joyful team culture

And it was the culture that made our team feel a sense of ownership. They felt like they belonged, and they felt safe. They felt like they could grow, they felt heard. And there’s so much more to it. There are so many nuances to it. But basically, it’s because of the culture that we had developed within our own business, that our team stuck around and stayed with us.

They were staying with us, obviously because they were happy, and that happiness, went out and touched all the people who visited our restaurant. And not just the guests, it would also touch people who would come in otherwise, like our vendors. Or people who would come in to repair our fridge and mixie and things like that, the maintenance professionals.

It would touch all of them, and often we were told that when they walk into our restaurant, they feel very different. The whole energy of the place is very, very different from what they saw elsewhere, at other places.

For us, this wasn’t something that we had calculated, it was just who we were, and nurturing our team was a very important thing to us. So we were doing it. And then over the years, we figured out that the more we listened to them, the more we encouraged them to grow, and take ownership, and take on more responsibilities of their own accord, they felt trusted. They felt valued.

That helped everybody, because we also felt good, because we didn’t have as much stress, we had less burden of responsibility. It was distributed across the team.

So the culture is what got us through most difficult situations

Of course, we went through difficult periods, many, many of them. So many ups and downs, so many challenges. But no matter what we faced, we knew that we would face it together as a team. Tackle it, overcome it and move on. We had that faith and that was all thanks to the kind of culture that we had developed.

And I feel like even if sometimes, especially in the initial years, our strategies were a bit weak, because we didn’t really know what we were doing at first, it was the culture that helped us through it. And whatever strategies we had, even though they were not perfect, would succeed. Because the members of our team would implement them with the sense of, like I said, ownership and joy and this feeling of “this is my business and I want this business to do well”, that feeling, and that all came down to the culture.

And also in challenging times, there was always this uplifted energy, simply because that’s what we encouraged. There were days when all day long, we would not have had anybody walk into the restaurant to order food. And that can make anyone feel dejected, right? But I would ensure especially on these days, there would always be something fun happening so that their minds would be taken off that.

Me as a leader would not feel dejected and sit there because that’s not going to help anyone, instead I switched the way my energy flowed

I would go out and buy some kind of, you know, junk food, like samosa, vadas and stuff, and then bring it to the restaurant and treat my team to it. Or I’d say, “hey, you know what, nobody’s here today, so let’s enjoy. Let’s play a game.” And then we’d play some fun games.

We built really good, fun memories together, while also feeling uplifted. So that then, when the next day came and we got super busy and overwhelmed, the team would still be feeling full of energy to deal with that, to handle it, to handle those ups and downs that happen. So this is why the culture matters a lot.

Though, like I said, the quote about cultural eating strategy for breakfast is often used in terms of business, or entrepreneurship, companies, it also very much applies to your family culture, your societal culture, your personal culture.

Think of the culture within your own home, within your life, within your relationships

People you spend most of your days with, where you live together as a family. What kind of culture do you have within that house that nourishes and makes everybody feel really good? Makes people feel like, “yeah, I want to follow this. I want to make things happen.”

For example, when I was growing up, in our house, my parents would be in bed by 9 pm. That was just what it was, that was a given, that was a part of the culture of our home. So because of that, for years together, my sister and I, we would also be out! It would be lights out and sleeping deep. Anytime by 8:30 max we’d be deep asleep.

And it was not because our parents said, “Go to bed. Kids should go to bed early. This is what is right.” It’s because they didn’t have their TVs running, or phone calls didn’t come into the house after 9 pm. Everybody knew 9 pm this house is closed, nobody should be disturbing them or contacting them.

And because of that, we just assume that’s the way life is

We did not know that there are other houses where families stay up till midnight. Kids run around till 10 or 11 pm in the night. None of that. We didn’t even know that was a possibility. We just accepted things as they were, because that’s the culture that was encouraged in our house. Not just encouraged it was just embraced. Like, “that is what it is.”

It wasn’t told, it wasn’t something that was strategised and expressed to us. It just was. There’s so much we can do in our homes, in our families in our lives to encourage this. It just becomes the way things are. And it’s so much easier to do that than make rules and regulations.

That’s the difference. The difference between rules and culture is that a culture is something that’s happening in the background, underneath. And rules and regulations are things that are upfront. And I’m not saying rules are not important. Of course rules are important, otherwise everybody will run wild. But more important than rules are the cultures.

What is happening from the top down? What are the leaders doing? The people who hold the most power, what are they following? What are they embracing? Watching them, the rest of the people will follow too.

The important thing about establishing any culture, it’s not something you say, “Okay, this is the culture. This is what I’m going to do.” You can’t try to strategise into culture. That’s not how it works. It’s just something that you plant gently, and then nurture it, and let it grow. That’s the way culture works.

And it has to be something that’s beneficial to everybody who is a part of that culture, otherwise it’s never going to work

So for example, if we take societal cultures, when there is something which is a double standard – men and women, patriarchy. If something is better for the men, but actually curtails the freedom of the women, of course, the women are not going to want to follow that culture in the long run. Then society breaks down.

Whereas, if there is no double standard, if it’s equal to everybody, and everybody feels nurtured, everybody feels free being a part of that culture, then of course, they’re going to follow it right? They are going to want to be a part of that culture.

So taking something so wide as an example, if you look at the things in society, things that break down, things that shift and change and grow, and things that thrive. When you take any culture and notice these things, you’ll realise that what is thriving is the stuff that’s making a wider part of the population, wider part of the people involved, feel safe, feel nurtured, feel free, feel valued, you know, this is how they’re feeling. Therefore, that culture is thriving and growing and being embraced and being followed.

Finally, the same thing can be applied personally too, to your personal culture

You can strategise however much you want. You know, January’s coming, so, “yes! I’m going to get fit, I’m going to get healthy. I’m going to spend more time doing things that bring me joy.” You can strategise all you want.

But if you don’t develop and nurture a personal culture of self care, valuing yourself, valuing your time, establishing boundaries… If that is not a part of your personal culture, then all the plans that you make, all these things of, you know, “I’m going to work out everyday, I’m going to eat healthy, I’m going to spend more time reading, I’m going to go back to doing my art”, all of these plan are going to be chewed up and pooped out! *laughs*

If your personal culture is one of hustle, of giving all your time to others, of spending time online and on social media… All of these are a part of your personal day to day culture, and those are going to totally be in the way of your plans.

So which comes back to, whether it is in a business, whether it is personal, societal, whether it’s your home and family, one important thing is…

When you want to create certain strategies and plans, you also have to look at the culture that already exists

And yes, you can shift and grow and change the culture gently, slowly over time. Because culture takes time to change. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you can shift and change it.

Meanwhile, whatever strategies you want to implement, whatever plans, all of them have to be in alignment with the existing culture. I often see with businesses, we’ve done this too, but you know, I see a lot of entrepreneurs that I coach go through this. They’re like, “I have all these great plans and these processes in place, and I have all these ideas, but my team isn’t implementing it in the right way. People aren’t making it happen.”

That’s because you made all your plans, and you strategised, without taking into consideration the capacities, the interests of your team. The culture that they do currently embrace. Without taking that into consideration, if you make your plans, then none of them are going to work out.

Again, an example from our restaurant

See, our culture did not necessarily depend on people having excellent English speaking skills or a very high level of education. Every decision has its ups and downs, you know, pros and cons. In our case, not having people who spoke excellent English, you know, at the front desk or on the customer facing front was in the way of us putting into place certain styles of communication.

If we created a strategy, say a marketing strategy or a promotional strategy, which involved our front desk team members having certain kinds of conversations with our guests or potential guests, marketing to them, selling to them, they wouldn’t have been able to pull that off.

However, we did know that the strength of our front facing, our service team was their warmth. Was their friendliness, was their ability to smile and make a guest instantly feel comfortable and at home, regardless of the language barrier.

And because of that, we implemented strategies where it was a lot simpler for them to still communicate, still interact, but do it in such a way that they didn’t have to use very fancy language skills, or very involved English communication.

And that helped us a lot because the guests were happy

So we broke things down, made things simple, and then the systems were put in place, the processes were so simple that it was easy for our service team to execute with that warm, friendly smile. That was their strength.

So it’s very important to see what already exists, the strengths, the weaknesses, current culture of your particular organisation, your home, wherever, and then strategise realistically based on that. And that’s very, very helpful in the long run.

When your team culture is good, it is felt by not just the team, whether new or old employees, it is also felt by everybody who interacts with them

It’s the same with the culture of a home, a country, society. People feel it. Culture is not something that they see, not so much what they see, but more of what they feel.

You subconsciously pick up the energy of the place, of the people, of the way they think. And that’s all part of the culture which you don’t state in so many words, it’s more abstract.

So yeah, culture eats strategy for breakfast but also, it doesn’t have to eat it!

They can work hand in hand together. Your strategising and the culture that exists, or the culture that you develop, and nourish and nurture. They can work beautifully hand in hand with each other if you keep in mind the importance of that energy, the atmosphere, that culture that you have created. Whether in your home, whether in your personal life, whether it is in your business, or overall as a part of society.

So that’s it for today. I hope that gave you a lot to think about.

Like I said, I’m gonna take off next week, and I’ll be back in early Jan. But later this week, the one thing I will be doing before I log off for my holidays is to send out December’s newsletter. So if you’d like to read it, join The Feel Good Tribe.

I’ll talk to you again soon, and wish you a very happy new year in advance.

Transcribed using Otter

Susmitha Veganosaurus

Shorth haired Indian lady, beaming a wide smile. Flowers in the background. Vegan business coach and chef Susmitha Veganosaurus

“I’m a Spiritual Vegan Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur. I read voraciously, find humour in most things, and believe kindness and authenticity can make this world a happier, loving place.

If my content resonates with you, join my free newsletter where I share Life and Business Tips, Vegan Hacks, Holistic Guidance, and more.

Vegan cuisine and holistic business building are my two biggest passions. If you’re looking for guidance with vegan cooking, or want to grow your conscious business with joy and fulfilment explore ways we can work togetherhere.”