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:
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.
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