Post Date: December 11, 2014

Taking Responsibility for our City

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker

The first time I heard that quote, it stuck. I didn’t need to hear it again because as anyone who leads a team knows, it’s true.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago while attending a leadership retreat, where a lion’s share of the morning discussion had to do with the power of staff culture. We were challenged to write down the cultural values of the teams we lead. All of the leaders in the room understood the importance of doing so, but few of us had gone through the process of actually writing down the words that both define our current culture and describe the culture we aspire to have.

This process is beneficial on multiple levels and applies to all areas of life, whether in the home, in business, or in civic leadership. I recalled that nearly four years ago, when we started New City Church, we went through a similar process—almost without knowing it. At that time we looked at the city of Phoenix and asked ourselves two questions: “What are the current cultural values of this city?” and “What do the people of this city aspire to?

What we have seen over and over as we’ve lived and worked in the city during these past four years is that Phoenix has some very distinct cultural characteristics.

First, we have seen that Phoenix values entrepreneurialism. Unlike other cities, there are very few “good old boy” networks you have to navigate, which means that if you have an idea, you really can go for it.

Relatedly, we identified a culture of creativity. Perhaps because our city is relatively young, people aren’t afraid to try new things here. The story of Phoenix is still being written, after all.

Ours is also a city characterized by resourcefulness, with people from all walks of life regularly asking, “What can we do with what we have?” Because there aren’t a lot of entrenched, impenetrable networks, resources can sometimes be difficult to find. But like the natural resources found just below the surface throughout the desert landscapes of Arizona, all kinds of social and economic resources are there if you’re just willing to work and dig a little.

While the story of entrepreneurialism, creativity, and resourcefulness accurately represents key aspects of the culture of Phoenix, we face some legitimate challenges as well. First, we still don’t have enough opportunity and community for creatives. While creativity is valued here, I’ve seen too many young creatives leave for places like Chicago and Seattle, simply because they didn’t see opportunities for growth in Phoenix.

The data back up our shared sense that Phoenix is a transient city. As the Phoenix Business Journal reported in September, Phoenix had the fifth highest outbound move volume this summer. Let’s face it: people tend to “use” Phoenix for its great weather and they love to visit, but many—especially young people—don’t see it as home or as a viable place to stay and settle down.

Fortunately, some of this is changing. Acts of “permanence” are more and more apparent as business are investing millions in urban renewal and residents are spending thousands to resurrect the neighborhoods that make up our urban center. Creatives are finding more community as leaders provide affordable and intentional space and resources for it to happen. Education is receiving more attention across all demographics and people are finding more opportunities to grow into the life they envision here in Phoenix.

As a leader of a team, I feel a sense of responsibility for our organizational culture. Likewise, as a resident of Phoenix I feel responsible to help our city become what we hope it will be: a vibrant, flourishing city where people have an opportunity to live, work, study, and play in a community they are making their home. Each of us has a civic responsibility to use the capacity we have to do the same—to “be the change you wish to see” in our own backyard.

The great news is that we live in a city that will let us do just that.

Header Image: “Downtown Phoenix Skyline Lights” by Alan Stark (via Wikimedia Commons)

Brian Kruckenberg

A few of Brian’s favorite things: his wife (of course), his kiddos (duh), urban life, sports (all kinds) and espresso.

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2 Comments on Taking Responsibility for our City

  • Duane says:
    January 4, 2015 at 11:52 pm Reply

    I really enjoyed this essay about culture and especially the Drucker quote. I was curious about two things. First, what does the quote mean for you. I guess that is what the article is saying but I am not clear on the word “strategy” vs. “culture”.

    Second, what is the culture of the team you lead and how is it changing or how do you hope to see it develop as compared to the culture of the city.

    Thank you for challenging us, Duane

  • brian says:
    January 6, 2015 at 3:47 pm Reply

    Duane – thanks for the comment and questions.

    When Drucker talks about culture vs. strategy what he is saying is that it doesn’t matter what written plans you have if your culture won’t support your plans. In other words, your culture will always dictate how much success you have over the long haul so culture always wins out.

    We recently wrote down some cultural values that we do (or want to) embrace. We aren’t all the way there on all of them. Since we are a church, some of ours our unique to our specific role in the city and world (as we see it anyway). Here’s our list of cultural values:

    be entrepreneurial;
    do your job with excellence;
    be open to critique (aka, have “thick skin”);
    have fun;
    honor God with your work ethic (work and re-create at appropriate levels);
    seek God in everything you do (before and during)

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