How does culture “eat” strategy?

What is culture?

In Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein identifies 3 levels of culture:

  1. Artifacts;
  2. Espoused beliefs and values;
  3. Basic underlying assumptions.

I see the first two levels of culture as more “culture theatre” with the third level being actually the most important.

What is strategy?

In Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt describes the kernel of strategy as:
1. Diagnosis;

2. Guiding policy;

3. Coherent actions.

How does culture “eat” strategy?

A culture “eats” strategy when basic underlying assumptions mean:

  1. You can’t accept the diagnosis of a strategy;
  2. You can’t accept the guiding policies of a strategy;
  3. Therefore the actions appear to you to be incoherent and nonsensical… and you reasonably ignore them.

NOTE: There is no good citation that Peter Drucker ever said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

NOTE: A lot of what I’m saying is inspired by Edgar Schein who did say “culture constrains strategy” in Organisational Culture and Leadership.




Staff Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jason Yip

Jason Yip

Staff Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl

More from Medium

Musings from a slow learner with a touch of imposter syndrome

Project to Product nudges for large organisations

Agile Practices for Creating the RnD Culture in a 65 Year Old State-Owned Bank

Guiding principle: consent over consensus

“We don’t have time! I’ll make the decision myself!” leading to “Why can’t we execute?!?”