Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast, Innovation For Lunch, And Transformation For Dinner

Sanja Mestrovic

Recently I was invited to participate in a panel at #DigitalTakover, the biggest event on digital transformation in southeast Europe. The topic was Everything can be reduced to an algorithm – except employees.

To prepare for the discussion, I asked people about their point of view. Their answers were unanimous: “Of course, employees are the most important asset in every company!”

That got me thinking: How many companies actually really live by the belief that employees are their most important asset?

If the answer is such a no-brainer, why are we even discussing it? If you really think about it, how many people do you actually know who love their job and the company they work for? How many people would honestly say that their company treats them as the most valuable asset?

In today’s time of digital transformation, the truth about whether companies live by the value of putting the employees first is reflected in the organization’s culture.

Back in the last century, Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” This statement holds true today. I would add that the same culture will eat innovation for lunch, and transformation for dinner. What I mean is that the organizational culture defines the way companies innovate and ultimately how they transform.

Fast-forward a few decades, and we can see that the economies that have evolved from agrarian through industrial to service now have evolved into the “experience economy.” Now more than ever, companies should focus on fostering a culture that defines clear values and providing a quality experience to both to their employees and their customers.

The reality, though, is that companies are really struggling to define their culture and stay true to their values. As Simon Sinek puts it, “Most leaders don’t even know the game they are in.”

You are what you eat: Define your culture

As in dieting, companies become what they eat. If they value teamwork, they will become team-oriented. If they live innovation, they will become innovative. If they foster change, they will become agile. But if they preach a healthy lifestyle and secretly eat junk food, companies cannot stay healthy.

So, if your company aims to survive in today’s fast-changing business environment, you need to answer these questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What’s your purpose? Why you are doing what you are doing?

Once you know your culture and you have defined clear values and beliefs, you will attract employees who will strengthen your business’s health and help you deliver on the defined strategy.

Take the risk – try new flavors!

Diversity is good: It fuels innovation.

As you develop a healthy culture, let your employees add their own spice – encourage them to share ideas, opinions, different solutions, critical thinking. Give them the freedom to add flavor to your business through innovation and diversity. Give them a chance to express themselves.

All you have to do is to provide an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes, take risks, and even be part of a failure. Fail quickly, learn the lesson, and move on to the next quest. For example, check out the story of Astro Teller from Google X.

Are you eating the right things? If you want to stay fit, make sure you transform the way you eat. As in this video from Raj Ramesh, an organization, just like an individual, needs to focus on the right factors in order to stay fit. In my experience, 70% of diets fail. According to McKinsey, 70% of business transformations fail.

When we speak about digital transformation, we usually look at processes, business models, and technology. Similarly, when we want to lose weight, we focus on physical exercise and watching the scale. But these factors comprise only 20% of the effort; the 80% that really matters involves what, when, and how we eat.

So why do we focus on the irrelevant factors? The answer is simple: Because it is easier. It is very human to take the path of least resistance. Going to the gym and doing sports is much easier than changing poor eating behavior and habits. (Is there anything better than enjoying a bucket of ice cream while you watch a movie before bed?)

However, if you want to lose weight for good, you need to change the timing and the kind of food that you eat. In the same way, organizations that wish to see successful transformations need to focus on their employees.

As a leader, if you want an organizational transformation to succeed, focus on empowering your employees to lead the transformation. Transform the individual to transform the collective. Lead by example and build a vision of the future that employees can relate to – and when things get tough, don’t let up!

In that context, a statement like “My people are my organization’s true asset” will taste very good.

Bon appetit! Stay fit!

What is your organization’s recipe for leading a successful digital transformation?

For more digital transformation strategies, see “3 Tips For Bringing Digital Transformation To An Entire Enterprise.”


Sanja Mestrovic

About Sanja Mestrovic

Sanja Mestrovic is head of the Transformation Management Office at SAP, with over 17 years’ experience in the IT industry. In her role, Sanja manages digital transformation and innovation projects within SAP as well as with customers and partners. Sanja’s main focus is to help companies design human-centric innovations and ensure that creative ideas are implemented by leveraging organizational culture, employee engagement, and effective change management. She has rich international experience, having worked in the U.S., UK, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, India, South Africa, and Turkey.