Why Public Health Culture ‘Eats Strategy For Breakfast’

Photo of a berry breakfast, with the words, Why Public Health Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Peter Drucker, a famous management consultant, once remarked that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” After 15 years working with different commercial shipping and cruise lines, I’ve come to realize both the truth of this statement and how it resonates with public health strategies across the maritime industry. What’s more, it helps inspire the mission of our company, Maritime Health Services:

To provide cost-effective, client-tailored solutions that empower maritime companies of all sizes to create successful and sustainable public health cultures.

In my first year as Head of Public Health for Costa Crociere and AIDA Cruises, I recall an encounter with a sous chef who had recently joined the company. His previous employer was a particular cruise line that has a good reputation amongst industry insiders for their high standards of public health on board. When I asked why he’d left the company, he replied, “There was a lot of pressure from the top-down regarding public health, with consequences for those who didn’t meet expectations. I just wanted an easier life.”

Although his answer was a sobering moment, it was equally thought-provoking. The efficacy of any strategic plan—what Drucker alludes to—will be kept in check if your team doesn’t share the proper attitudes, values, and beliefs. The kicker is, company culture will develop whether you’ve been proactively working on it or not; it’s manufactured from the behaviours your company is willing to tolerate.

What Does “Public Health Culture” Mean?

The late Edgar Schein—a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management—is quoted as saying, “If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.” Company culture is a complex concept that is difficult to define in a single sentence; however, it can perhaps be best summarized as the principles and behaviours of an organization’s team members.

When we talk about public health culture, we’re referring to the internal attitudes and values a company has towards disease prevention. In the maritime industry, the term ‘public health’ covers a wide range of elements from clean drinking water to food safety; from preventing and responding to infectious diseases to promoting personal hygiene; from sanitation protocols to effective pest management strategies; from the safe operation of recreational water facilities to the actual design and construction of the ships themselves.

With the exception of larger cruise lines, most vessel owners, operators, and ship management companies don’t have their own internal public health departments and personnel. Quite often the role of managing an organization’s public health program is delegated to a Designated Person Ashore (DPA), Technical Superintendent, or Operations Manager. Taking into consideration the wide-ranging, comprehensive components of maritime public health, and the likelihood that the assignees will not be subject-matter experts in the field, it’s a heavy burden to bear.

In fact, providing expert support to such individuals and companies is one of the drivers behind the founding of Maritime Health Services.

If you’re not working in a designated public health role, the mitigation of public health hazards and risks will not be your chief concern. Consequently, it’s understandable that improving public health standards—an essential component to developing a robust culture—is unlikely to be top of the to-do list. Nonetheless, company culture happens regardless. And, most of the time it’s created—often unknowingly—by the actions of an organization’s executives and senior leaders.

How to Create a Public Health Culture

When it comes to culture, actions speak louder than words. Although communication is important, public health culture isn’t about slogans on bulkheads, motivational quotes, or statements made during townhall meetings. It’s about building a company for success through precisely targeted strategies designed to ensure an organization and its people are aligned and sailing in the same direction.

As Michael Kouly, the founder and CEO of the Cambridge Institute for Global Leadership, says, “The culture of a company is the sum of the behaviours of all its people.” It encompasses the individual and collective actions of everyone—from the very top to the bottom—working together to create an environment where public health is a prerequisite for success. While the thought of culture change may at first appear daunting, it can be achieved if behaviours are changed.

Creating a public health culture requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach. Senior management must set the tone and lead by example. Employees must be fully engaged and active participants in the process. Sufficient resources and support will be needed to ensure team members and managers alike understand the significance of public health and are equipped to carry out their duties properly. Fundamentals include:

  • Effective public health policies and procedures.
  • Appropriate training and coaching.
  • Continuous improvement efforts such as inspections and audits.

Culture will eat strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if a company’s attitudes and values towards public health-related topics, such as food safety and water safety, don’t promote and encourage proper practices day in day out.

When you know what to expect from your people—and they have what they need to execute your vision, strategy and culture—together, you’ll produce stunning organizational results.

Your Culture, Our Mission

If company culture is eating your public health strategy, let MHS help. Since our start-up in 2021, we’ve supported clients in building the foundations of successful cultures through our portfolio of maritime public health services. Some of the solutions we provide include:

  • The development of ship-specific policies and procedures such as Water Safety Plans (WSPs) and Outbreak Prevention & Response Plans (OPRPs).
  • On board training and coaching of crew.
  • The creation of computer-based training courses.
  • Conducting public health inspections and audits.
  • Providing disease outbreak investigation and management support.

With the launch of our company website and social media platforms, we’re excited about the future and the opportunities it brings to the global maritime industry. To learn more about how Maritime Health Services can help your company enhance its public health standards and create a successful and sustainable public health culture, visit our website.

In future blogs, we’ll explore the topic of public health culture in more detail. For now, thank you for reading. Don’t miss future articles and updates: follow us on LinkedIn.