Lessons in branding: culture eats strategy for breakfast

“Culture,” as Peter Drucker once said, “eats strategy for breakfast.”

Featured in July/August Harvard Business Review is the article Cultural Change That Sticks, written by Booz & Co. execs Jon Katzenback, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley.

Leading with a story of Aetna’s (not so unique) struggles in the early 2000’s, they point to the fact that “it takes years to alter how people think, feel, and behave, and even then the differences may not be meaningful. When that’s the case, an organization with an old, powerful culture can devolve into disaster.”

Through their research, they found that almost every organization that attained peak performance – including Four Seasons, Apple, Micrpsoft and Southwest Airlines – got there by applying these five principles. And they all viewed culture as a competitive advantage and an accelerator of change.

These principles are:

1. Match strategy and culture…as culture trumps strategy every time
2. Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior…change is hard, so you need to choose your battles
3. Honor the strengths of your existing culture…so major change feels more like a shared evolution vs. a top-down imposition
4. Integrate formal and informal interventions…reaching people at an emotional level and tapping rational self-interest
5. Measure and monitor cultural evolution…to identify backsliding, correct course where needed, and demonstrate tangible evidence of improvement

Helping clients to create new energy from the inside-out is important and fulfilling work. But for real change to take hold, not only inside but for customers and partners, it must be genuine to the organization. Starting with its culture.

Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, a brand and marketing firm specializing in creating momentum for businesses across the health + wellness continuum. The common threads are consumers who want to get well, stay well and play well, and brands that fulfill these aspirations and goals.

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