When helping businesses develop healthy, fit-for-purpose cultures, I often get asked whether the organisation should develop a “top-down” global culture plan or let local entities develop their own plans. My answer? It depends.
Why a single, global culture plan?
A single culture plan will ensure consistency of messaging, approach, and outcomes. The plan will define the culture blueprint for the whole organisation; it will highlight the key behaviours that need to shift across the business in alignment with the overall strategy. Because everyone is working from the same template and understanding, culture initiatives can be quite effective and have a broader impact. The single plan does not prevent local cultures from developing, but it makes sure the essence of the culture is the same across the whole organisation. It has the added advantage of creating a common language and of uniting leadership and creating cross-functional collaboration. The plan will, as much as possible, focus on initiatives that are across locations and across business units.
Why local culture plans?
What a global plan cannot easily do is take into account local specificities, such as national cultures or local subcultures. It can’t take into account either the various culture initiatives that may have already been implemented by various business units. It can also be perceived as a “top-down” approach driven by head-office, which can result in failure in implementation or push-back from the employees.
Local plans are by definition adapted to local circumstances and usually close to the field. When local plans are developed by local entities, engagement is high, and effectiveness of culture initiatives is strong. Local plans can however not change those systems and processes (or behaviours) that are driven by head-office or are global and cross-functional by nature.
Try blending the two approaches. This works well with most organisations that are spread across several geographies or with very different cultures. My recommendation is as follows:
- Start by building an organisation-wide plan. This plan will identify those behaviours that need to shift across the entire business, as well as the global systems and processes that need alignment. This plan should remain high-level so that local entities can adapt it to their specificities. A strong engagement strategy will be developed to support the plan’s implementation.
- Support local entities in the development of a local culture plan in alignment with the global framework. It is critical that the local plans focus on the same key behaviours as the global plan. They may, depending on their circumstances, add a behaviour or express the key behaviours in a slightly different way, but they should not move away from the core focus of the plan. What may differ is the various initiatives they will put in place to shift mindsets and behaviours. It is likely that they will identify separate projects for their local teams too.
- Local plans should be monitored centrally to ensure consistency. However, empowering local teams to develop their plan will guarantee buy-in and sustainability of the transformation. Local plans do not have to be geographically-based; they can be developed for business units or divisions. What is common across the plans is usually - and should be - more important than what is different between them.
Most international organisations and large businesses manage one overall culture framework and plan, and allow for local plans to develop in alignment with the framework. It’s a win-win situation: global consistency with local impact.