Culture eats strategy for breakfast, whereas I eat croissant

Forget about strategy and culture, what about my breakfast!

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. 

It can be thought that his view was that strategy was unimportant. To clarify this, what he was saying in this quote is that strategy alone is not enough, a powerful and empowering culture was essential in delivering on a strategy. Without that underpinning strong culture, you will never realise your strategic aspirations. When creating a strategy, you may want to think strategically what else needs to be in place to underpin the process.

Reflecting on this quote though, I did start to think about breakfast, and wondered if I could use breakfast as an analogy for effective strategy implementation. As well as strategic objectives, what else do people need to know in order to deliver those objectives successfully.

I do find talking with people about strategy that they often struggle with implementation, the operationalisation of that strategy and the planning required to deliver the objectives of that strategy.

Across different organisations I have often seen the following process used when it comes to strategic implementation.

Write a strategy.

This is usually done at a senior or board level, usually involving some consultants. The end result is a glossy brochure that talks about a vision, values and a series of objectives.

What happens next depends on your organisation, but I often see the following.

Separate departments, sections or directorates, sometimes even teams will create an operational plan. They then map that plan to the strategic objectives, as that will then “deliver” on the strategic objectives for the organisation.

So, what does this have to do with breakfast Well, imagine that your strategic objective is this:

We are committed to offering all of our customers a world-leading, rigorous, delicious, inclusive breakfast experience embedded in a vibrant welcoming environment.

Well’s that’s an easy enough objective to deliver on, isn’t it?


Imagine there are various teams across the business who will support the delivery of this objective.

One team creates an operational plan to deliver on eggs for breakfast. They create a plan for cooking eggs different ways to meet customer needs. The plan is detailed and provides the process for cooking eggs different ways, they ways in which they should be presented, the different crockery required and how the eggs should be served to the customer. They use their own proprietary processes and planning tools, which are independent of and do not interact with other planning tools. However their plan implies that only eggs will be eaten for breakfast and no thought is given to the other breakfast components, as they are the responsibility of other teams.

One team creates a plan to deliver the bacon for the breakfast. In order to be efficient and cost-effective (as another strategic objective sets out that the organisation should be cost-effective and efficient), the team decides that they will use the cheapest bacon available, cook it in advance and then add to the breakfast when needed.

The toast team recognise that they need to deliver toast for the breakfast, but they will need time to workshop the kind of toast required, what bread will be needed, the kind of toaster that customers prefer, or whether they cook the toast to order. They anticipate that this planning and preparation will take at least six months and that it will be another six months before they can actually deliver toast to the customer.

One team makes the decision that they will do everything themselves and create their vision of the perfect breakfast, as they don’t trust other teams, or don’t like their work, they plan to procure, prepare and cook everything by themselves. 

Another team creates a plan to make mille feuille, or pastry cream slices on puff pastry. They recognise that not everyone wants a sweet pastry for breakfast, but they are very good at making mille feuille. At least one customer said they wanted mille feuille (though they didn’t clarify at the time if that was for afternoon tea or for breakfast).

One team decides that they don’t need a plan and will just get on with making the breakfast. They decide to focus on croissant. Before long they start looking at adding ham and cheese to the croissant. Realising after some failures, that croissant are too challenging to make, they go with making fruit scones instead.

No one is making coffee, as they all assumed that another team was making coffee, that was someone else’s responsibility.

The end result is that the breakfast that the customer receives is not quite what they expected. It is inconsistent, there are aspects missing, and no one appears to be taking responsibility for the end result, and are blaming other parts of the organisation for the failure to deliver.

So did the organisation deliver on offering all of their customers a world-leading, rigorous, delicious, inclusive breakfast experience embedded in a vibrant welcoming environment.

Part of the problem is that there lacks a shared and agreed understanding of what a “world-leading, rigorous, delicious, inclusive breakfast experience” actually is.

For some people a delicious breakfast is the classic full English Breakfast, bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms and toast. For others that breakfast needs to include black pudding, beans, hash browns as well as everything else. If you’re vegan though, that breakfast is exclusionary and not what you probably think is a delicious breakfast. If you live in Edinburgh, you might hesitate with a Full English and wonder where the Lorne sausage is.

When it comes to delivering on a strategic objective, it is important that all stakeholders are clear about what the objective means and what success looks like. If your team thinks avocado toast is success and another team is looking at success by delivering a full English breakfast, you are unlikely to deliver on that objective. Defining success and agreeing what that is, is critical to delivering on your vision.

Another issue is that teams are working independently on their plans and then mapping them to the strategy. There are two risks with that, first there could be gaps in the delivery. Secondly teams can create plans for doing stuff they want to do, which may not necessarily deliver on the strategic objective, but as it is in the plan, so it gets done. Teams can also change their plans without reflecting on the implications for the rest of the organisation and that overall breakfast experience.

Of course a single strategic objective is complex enough, adding in more objectives just adds to the complexity.

All teams need to know where the organisation is heading, and how their work (and the work of the individuals in those team) is contributing to the strategic objective. If there is no clarity in vision, no defined values, no sense of direction, then you will not be successful and you are potentially creating and nurturing an inadequate culture.

The key really is that teams need to be clear about what success looks like, their role in delivering that success. They can then plan their work accordingly to deliver on that success.