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Culture ate strategy for breakfast

09 December 2011

I attended the Deloitte CEO conference last Thursday. The speakers were a star studded cast including Denis O’Brien and Stan McCarthy of Kerry Foods. However for me the star of the show was the hilarious Kingsley Aikens of “Diaspora Matters” fame. Mixed in with some great one liners was a quote that is often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker which said – “Culture ate strategy for breakfast”. This caught my attention because of its relevance to Business Development for Professional Service firms.

Another guru David Maister recently published a book called Strategy and the Fat Smoker the subtitle of which is “doing what’s obvious but not easy”. He likens strategy to the fat smoker who knows that the remedy is to eat less, exercise more and to stop smoking but who finds these strategies difficult to implement!

His point is that when it comes to the right things to do in a Professional Service firm there is little rocket science involved in understanding the principals e.g. that all partners should use their practice development time on a small number of effective activities that attract new business to the firm. This is where Business Development and culture meet. Without first creating a business development culture in a firm it is doomed to failure. There must be 100% partner buy in. It is impossible to build a firm if buy in is not total i.e. if some partners believe that involvement in Business Development is an option and not mandatory. The harsh truth is that there must be consequences for non performance where this “business development is optional” culture exists.

Today’s business climate requires firms to grasp the business development nettle in both hands. Unfortunately many firms have not got the required business development culture either because they have lost it due to the easy flow of business in the good old days or they had a weak business development culture in the first place. The firms that develop the right culture will see out these tough times and will be the stars of the future. Those that do not will get eaten for breakfast!