Building a Culture Plan

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Walking the Talk

Organisational culture can sometimes seem a nebulous concept. While you can clearly feel culture and its impacts, defining what needs to change and how, and measuring the results, are more challenging. But culture is a critical strategic enabler, and as such needs to be treated as a discipline in the same way as HR, Finance, Legal functions etc are. Because as the cliché goes (and clichés have a habit of being true) ‘What gets measured gets managed’, and therefore significantly increases your chances of being successful.  

In this blog we’re going to explain what a culture plan is, why it’s important, and how to build one. We will look at the constituent parts of a plan, relevant timelines, the common challenges faced in creating it, and how to overcome them.

 

What is a culture plan? 

Put simply, it’s a plan that contains all your programmes and projects that are going to move your culture forward, in one place. It typically begins with your business strategy, followed by an outline of what culture you want to move away from, and which one you want to move to (your target culture change strategy), and how you’re going to do this, to achieve your corporate goals.   

There is then a high-level overview of: 

  • Key culture initiatives over the next 12–18 months. 
  • How they support your desired future culture. 
  • Who’s responsible for leading them. 
  • Critical actions/next steps.  

Essentially, the plan is how you’re going to make your culture change strategy happen. It is sometimes called a ‘culture roadmap’, but for the purposes of this article we will stick to ‘culture plan’. Having a culture plan ensures that all the different activities you’re doing are collected in one document, with a clear narrative connection to strategy, so that everybody understands: 

  • What the strategy is.  
  • What culture you need to deliver your organisational goals.  
  • The intrinsic connection between culture change and strategic success.  

 

Why is it important to have a culture plan? 

There are many benefits to having a culture plan, including: 

Clarity and visibility   

Anyone can clearly see, at a glance, the culture change objectives and activities that are happening, whether it’s a new CEO coming in, an external stakeholder (for example, a regulator) who may request it, the Board, or an internal team. 

Ownership and accountability  

Everyone can see who is responsible for what, the interdependencies, and how the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. It demonstrates the cross-organisational accountability and alignment needed for culture change.  

Brings the change to life  

Having a plan in black and white makes it much more likely that your change will happen. 

Forces prioritisation  

Building the plan is a prioritisation process. By looking at capacity, capability, and resources (budget etc), the plan helps you focus on the initiatives that will make the biggest impact and get you closest to the culture shift that you want. 

Measurement 

Enables your company to track progress, and course correct if needed. 

 

How do you know if your organisation requires a culture plan? 

What we see a lot of the time with clients is that there are plenty of culture-related activities going on, but little visibility at an organisational level. This is: 

  • Ineffective – because projects are being done in silos. 
  • Inefficient – for example, duplication of effort.  
  • Counter-productive – because programmes and project are not connected to a broader culture change strategy and plan.   

Culture is often seen as being owned by HR, and as such, it is believed any culture plan of sorts should form part of the HR strategy. We disagree. If your organisation is thinking and acting in this way, then you need a robust culture plan at an enterprise level. Having a plan is an acknowledgment of the criticality of culture to organisational performance, it puts the ownership for it back on the business as whole, and establishes a framework for ongoing tracking and reporting.   

 

What are the steps needed to build an effective culture plan? 

There are five main building blocks of an effective culture plan: 

1. The culture change strategy.  

This is based on an assessment of your current culture and a description of your desired or ‘target’ culture. The assessment is crucial, because the more detailed your knowledge of your current culture is, the better your plan will be, as you will have properly identified your gaps. You also need to be crystal clear on your ‘From’ and ‘To’ because this is the filter for everything else in the plan.  

 2. List of initiatives  

A list of all the programmes and projects that are going to happen, which will require collecting information from across the business.  

3. Define the enablers 

For example, how are you going to measure the success of each initiative, and the plan as a whole?  

4. Identify risks 

What threats could derail your plan, and how can you mitigate against them? 

5. Set your governance 

 Defining accountabilities, and how you will monitor and report out on the plan? 

 

How to assess your Culture Plan  

When we build a culture plan with a client, we assess each initiative based on our TRIA criteria:   

T – Timing.  

What’s the timeline, and how quickly will the programme/project deliver? Initiatives that have impact soonest will be favoured. This doesn’t mean low-hanging fruit, it means impactful activities that can be realised at pace to demonstrate momentum and build belief.   

R – Reach.  

How broad is the reach in terms of the number of employees? You want to be able to touch the biggest number of people possible, so you need to look at activities that are scalable.   

I – Impact.  

How big will the impact be? This is about understanding the culture change strategy, and assessing activities based on how much difference they will make? There are typically lots of activities you can do which make minimal difference, so putting the lens of impact on enables you to get laser focused on those that will really move the needle on your culture.  

A – Appetite.  

What is the appetite within your organisation to dedicate resources to implementing the plan? It’s better to focus on activities that are not too complex or costly, as these may struggle to gain investment, and run into difficulties further down the line. 

 

What kind of timeline does a standard culture plan have? 

While there is no one-size-fits-all, our recommendation is for a plan to have a timeline of 12–18 months (max). Regardless of your cadence, your culture plan should be reviewed and refreshed yearly, like any other plan in your organisation. That way it can stay agile, and responsive to business needs.  

 

Why should leaders prioritise culture planning? 

The answer to this is, if you don’t have a plan, how is your culture change going to happen? And how do you know it’s been successful? Without a plan you don’t know what’s going on, if its potential is being maximised, and you can’t show evidence to anyone of what is being done. That leaves your company in a position where you:  

  • Have no oversight of your culture change. 
  • Are running huge reputational risks with investors, regulators, and other stakeholders.  
  • Cannot reassure your Board with how your culture change is going to enable your strategy.

 

What are some of the challenges companies face when building a culture plan?  

Creating a culture plan can be difficult. It’s not a common discipline within organisations. In our experience, building a culture plan can face three main challenges: 

Ownership.  

Often, we see culture plans with no clear owner, and/or where is no alignment on who should own the plan. Where this is the case, everyone assumes culture is someone else’s responsibility, and it’s impossible to gain traction.  

Lack of ambition.  

While the culture change strategy may be bold, there is a reluctance to invest time and money in the activities required. As such, the plan is surface level, made up of minor, low-cost, low-intensity, low-impact activities. For example, there may be a reliance on using systems to drive culture change, without also tackling the deeper issues of organisational values and beliefs.   

Execution.  

This is about mobilising the required resources to implement the plan. We see companies with a robust culture plan on paper, but it’s not monitored or measured as a living, breathing document, so it doesn’t get delivered, or its impact is diluted.  

 

How can you overcome the challenges when building a culture plan?  

While these challenges may seem tough, and they can be, they’re not insurmountable. Here’s how you can tackle them:  

  1. Governance. This is why it’s so important to have governance in your plan. By doing so, you will create clarity on roles and responsibilities, not just for the plan but for every initiative.  
  1. Business ownership of the plan. Linked to governance, if the culture plan is owned by the leadership team, it is far more likely to secure time, money, and attention.  
  1. CEO-driven. If the CEO endorses, role models, and pushes the plan, then this can ensure the plan is not forgotten in a drawer, but is actively used to manage culture.  

Building a culture plan is a non-negotiable if you want your change to stick, and to help you deliver on your business strategy. It’s not easy to do, it will take long-term, intentional focus and effort, but it’s the only way to be successful.  

Contact us to define the future culture you need to deliver on your strategy.  

Contact us

 

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