Breakfast is Served

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Just about a year ago we went through an exercise as a staff that has proved one of the most important things I’ve done on staff at any organization. It was messy and it took way longer than we thought it would take (about two months), and the end result wasn’t shocking or ground-breaking, but despite all of that, the exercise was a fulcrum point for us as a staff and as an organization.

What did we do? We created a staff culture document, which named our values as a staff. In the third post, I will share the full document, but in this post, I will share the values we chose and why I am convinced staff values are so important. In the next post I will share what the process looked like.

Our values are:

  1. Humble
  2. Loving
  3. Prayerful
  4. Hard Working
  5. Fun
  6. Collaborative
  7. Trustworthy

We are far from the first organization to create a staff culture document and our values are not unique. In fact, there may be organizations out there who might share our exact seven values. But the process of putting the document together was invaluable for us as a staff. And the values themselves have become anchoring points for who we are and who we aspire to be.

I first heard the idea from Vanderbloemen and my curiosity was piqued. As someone who loves mission and vision statements, I can still remember being rattled by the famous quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” the first time I heard it.[i] I processed the quote as though through the five stages of grief. “No way! Idiot! No, please no! Maybe culture eats bad strategy for breakfast? Sigh. It’s true.”

The more I processed the quote, the more I realized it was dead on. Whether a business or a church, culture always wins. This doesn’t, of course, invalidate the importance of mission and vision, but the truth of that little statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is painfully true. I filtered it through my experience all the way back to my High School job, working as a cook at a Japanese fast food restaurant, through my experience as a Detention Officer, through my experience at a para-church ministry and two churches. In some of those organizations, the vision was written with perfect clarity and communicated consistently. In others I’m not even sure if there was a vision. In all cases, the culture of the organization trumped vision and strategy.

Our mission at New Life is to cultivate a community that enjoys God and transforms the world through the gospel. We think it is an incredibly significant mission. We want our staff sold out for this mission. We want to make sure our mission is in front of our congregation routinely. We want to make sure that we are evaluating ourselves by that mission. We want to make sure that all of our ministries are supporting this mission.

If our staff is committed to the mission, but we are not prayerful or collaborative, the mission might as well be to fly to Mars – we have zero chance of succeeding. Culture eats mission for breakfast.

And if we were to have a mission that was less compelling (let’s say something generic like “Grow, Connect, Serve!”) but our staff was the embodiment of our seven virtues, there is no doubt that a powerful work would be afoot at New Life.

I love mission statements. And I really think they are invaluable. In fact, I spent time last year sharing how important I think writing a personal mission statement is. We need a destination personally and organizationally. We need something to aim for. But more important than that destination is the heartbeat of the organization, the character of a team. We can plan a trip to Tahiti, but if our boat is riddled with holes and our motor is broken, we’re not making it past the reef, much less to Tahiti.

Next week I will share more about the process we navigated to come up with our values. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. What has your experience been with the intersection of mission and values? What has the most successful team you’ve ever worked on been?  Was that more a product of the staff culture or the organizational mission? I would love to hear your stories.


Photo credit: Sambazon/Unsplash


[i] This quote is often attributed to Peter Drecker, but it appears to have emerged organically from several sources in the early 2000s.