Andrew Thornton on Culture, breakfast and the power of self-leadership

I believe it was the so-called, “management guru,” Peter Drucker who coined the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” At the time, it seemed an interesting idea, but a bit theoretical. However, many years later, I now fully understand what he means.

It has been 11 years since Thornton’s Budgens acquired our North London Belsize Park store from Budgens, 7 years since we developed our purpose, “We are the community supermarket that really cares,” and almost 2 years, following the measuring our Human Potential utilisation, that my team chose the path of self-leadership to help us all grow and develop.

Thornton’s Budgens has been transformed. It looks and feels nothing like the store I bought back in 2007. Yet, despite all this transformation, I still see elements of the old Budgens command and control culture surface, especially when we are under pressure. This has frustrated and puzzled me.

Then the penny dropped … I read a paper written by my colleague Peter Leong entitled, Conscious Culture”.  The clear message I took from his work was that if you do not have a conscious (being stated and defined) culture, you’ll have an unconscious (not stated and not defined!) one. It is as simple as that!

While our purpose is clear and has always been universally bought into, the set of values an external consultant helped us develop, it has long since been confined to a dusty filing cabinet. Like so many values statements, they are vacant words on a piece of paper. Even I, as the founder, could not tell you what they are.

So the old unconscious culture lives on, as it does in so many, if not most, organisations.

It was clear to me that we needed to remedy this. And as we had just committed to our Plastic-Free Zone journey, we agreed to tackle ‘this’ in November, with ‘this’ being the development of a set of being attitude, which will define how we are with each other and how we collectively deliver our purpose.

To allow me to be a participant, I asked my Being at Full Potential colleagues, Mark and Vanessa, to facilitate a day with a sub-set of 10 of our self-leadership team. We locked ourselves away, and slowly, but surely, the ways we wanted to be, started to emerge. Inspired by my time at Mars (where we lived by the 5 Principles), we set about developing 5 being attitudes – or what the team decided to call “Heartsets”;  clear principles or ways of being that will define how we are together and that will need to be modelled by the self-leadership team. The truth is that if we don’t practise them, there is no chance others will.

Honouring the principles of self-leadership, I have now left the team to work on this. Daniel, our Head Coach, is facilitating two further internal sessions to engage the rest of the self-leadership team and they have committed to sharing a one-page summary of where we are at with me just before Christmas.

I am fully confident that these new heartsets will help us be so much clearer about how we want to show up each day, and ultimately starve the old unconscious culture of the oxygen that it needs to thrive. Watch this space!

With Heart,

Andrew Isaac Thornton