“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This sentiment, attributed to Peter Drucker, serves as both caution and reminder to anyone given the task of running a business, a non-profit or even a school. We must consider the culture of a community or organization before writing the first word of a strategic plan. The culture of a place can be a force for good or bad, and it is often what inspires people to act accordingly. The good news is that solid leadership can form and mold a culture for the better.
A few days ago, I heard a story on the radio about Frank. Mr. Frank, as he is called, is an elderly man, and he lives in a neighborhood filled with tasteful homes and manicured yards in Homewood, Alabama. All was well in that neighborhood until someone decided to put an unsigned letter in Mr. Frank’s mailbox. It seems that Mr. Frank lives in the smallest house on the street with an unattended yard, and he even has the gall to leave his Christmas lights up well into March.
The letter from a group of concerned neighbors read,
It might be in your best interest to consider selling your home so the yard can be properly landscaped and the house torn down so a new one can be built that is more fitting with the other homes on the street. Thank you.
As the narrator in this story said, “There is just so much wrong with this letter.” After hearing about the letter, one of the neighbors tried to determine who the author was, but to no avail. Undeterred, she decided the best way to bother the letter-writer was to put up her own Christmas lights. One by one the other residents on the street began to bring down their decorations from the attic and string their holiday lights.
Culture 1; Strategy 0.
In thinking about what defines our culture at Harpeth Hall, it is the sum of so many things. It is at once the energy and the focus, the jubilant and the quiet, the earnestness and the resilience. It is the fact that our girls have a habit of thanking their teachers every time they leave a classroom. No one asked them to, they just do. Teachers can assume the best of their students because, as a student said to me today, “teachers trust us here, not like at my old school.” When a girl is more nervous to give her speech, the applause is that much louder. During conversation, it is not uncommon for a detectable grimace to appear when a sentence begins with an incorrect pronoun or ends with a preposition. When the weather is nice and we have extra time after assembly, the seniors celebrate by dancing on the patio. When the weather is bad, the same, seemingly intelligent seniors cram into that tiny cottage situated on said patio.
When someone is new or different or hurting or simply alone, we must bring her into our community too. And that is what defines the very best of our culture.
Culture 10; Strategy 0.