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Business writers frequently and, as it turns out, wrongly attribute the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” to Peter Drucker, the acknowledged founder of modern management.

According to the Drucker Institute, Drucker never really said that, and the adage seems more likely derived from a blend of ideas of several big thinkers, including Drucker and Edgar Schein, who passed away this year.

Culture is the word we have chosen to describe the shared values, goals, attitudes, and beliefs that characterize a workplace and how the behavior of people in that workplace – including communication, interaction and decision making – reflects those values, goals, attitudes and beliefs.

Organizational culture can be so deeply engrained that it is not uncommon for experts to describe an organization’s culture as its DNA. Leaders can inform, create and, when necessary, destroy and recreate culture through the values, rituals, and rules they put into practice. However, it must be said that an organization’s culture exists whether leaders actively work on it or not.

Strategic thinking and planning represent vital organizational processes driving focus and guiding the organization toward desired goals. I believe in the power of a good strategy. I think that in my last job my most important contributions were getting our fire program on a solid strategic footing and hiring the awesome people who are executing that strategy today.

Business writers, college professors, and consultants marketing their wares have spilled a lot of ink around the idea of culture eating strategy. Oddly enough, quite a few get it wrong, creating the impression that it is culture versus strategy – that culture and strategy are some-how separate, competing forces, and that perhaps a good culture replaces the need for a good strategy.

Thinking about this popular maxim in any of these ways is to misunderstand the underlying thinking. While Drucker never said culture eats strategy for breakfast, he did say “Culture, no matter how defined, is singularly persistent.” Schein said culture “contains strategy.” Both were describing the inescapable nature and the durability of organizational culture.

I have heard culture described as the habitat in which a company’s strategy lives or dies. While the organization’s strategy critically provides direction, it is culture that creates the environment in which people are either enabled to effectively execute the strategy or not. It is in this way that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture determines how individuals work and function within an organization, permitting the organization’s success at carrying out its mission and achieving its strategic vision. No matter how well-crafted, a strategy will prove very hard to effectively implement if the organization’s strategy and culture are not well aligned or if people feel unempowered or unsupported and resist the very change the strategy is intended to bring about.

Let us look at the IAWF as an example. It was so rewarding to see the association as an institutional partner for the 8th International Wildland Fire Conference in Portugal in May. We have, of course always been an international association, and it has long been the stated mission to engage with the entire wildland fire community to provide global linkage for people with shared interest in wildland fire. IAWF aspires to be an acknowledged resource for local- to global-scale scientific and technical knowledge, education, networking, and professional development that is depended upon by members and partners in the international wildland fire community. I see formal partnership with the 8th International Wildland Fire Conference as well as the upcoming 7th International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference, which will be simultaneously conducted from the United States, Australia, and Ireland, as big steps in carrying out that mission and achieving the association’s strategic vision.

But one might ask, what about aligning the IAWF strategy with its culture? The current IAWF board comprises eight women and six men from Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Spain, and the United States. Board members represent industry, government, academia, and an NGO. I participate on the IAWF membership committee, and a frequent topic of discussion is making the association more relevant and accessible to fire personnel in developing nations. I am a former IAWF president and a 30-year member, and this is the most international I have ever seen the International Association of Wildland Fire. With that diversity comes diversity of perspective, and with diversity of perspective comes culture change. It is exciting to watch the association hit its international stride. Combine that with the IAWF’s diversity and inclusivity initiative, and you see an organization actively aligning its culture with its strategy.

Michael DeGrosky is a student of leadership, lifelong learner, mentor, and coach, sometimes writer, and recovering fire chief. He taught for the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University for 10 years. Follow Mike via LinkedIn.