How to build a culture plan from scratch

Jerome Parisse-Brassens

Building a culture plan sits at the core of how you transform organisational cultures. Without a plan, it’s like shooting in the dark: you sort of know where you want to go, but you have no idea how to get there. Most organisations are familiar with building annual plans for infrastructure, IT, people, strategy and operations. However, when it comes to culture, few businesses are used to develop effective plans.

What is a culture plan?

A culture plan is, in essence, a list of the activities that will take place across the year and that will shift the culture towards your target. Those activities do not happen in a vacuum, but will have been weighted and carefully selected against a number of criteria. They should be moving the culture in the right direction.

What does a culture plan contain?

The culture plan will bring under one umbrella the following elements:

  • Target culture – This is your detailed culture blueprint. It will describe the attributes, behaviours, values and beliefs that you want to bring to life in the organisation. It is critical that all those be aligned with the strategy so that they can truly enable your vision. One very useful element to consider is what I call the “From è To”, which highlights the critical shifts that need to happen over the course of the change process.
  • List of initiatives – Those are nothing more than the projects or actions that will realign the messages sent by the organisation about what is important. These will address behaviours, symbols and systems. A large number of initiatives have to do with HR processes and systems, but business systems also play a critical part. Communications and people development are other important levers for change. Each initiative will be detailed enough for leaders to understand what they aim to achieve but not so detailed and complex that it stifles implementation.
  • Risks and key success factors – As with any other plan, a list of risks and mitigation strategies as well as key factors for success is indispensable.
  • Metrics – Defining your metrics upfront will avoid many dramas during the change process. Metrics will not only define how to measure the culture you are trying to shift, but they will also measure the business outcomes you are intending to achieve through the change. Metrics will help sustain momentum when times are tough and an easy strategy would be to drop cultural actions.
  • Governance – A good plan needs strong governance in place for its implementation. You will need to determine who the overall sponsor is (one or several executives usually), who has final accountability for the plan, and who is responsible for implementing each initiative. Is there a project manager for each initiative or one overall? The purpose of the governance structure is to ensure that the implementation of the plan is under control at any point in time.

 How do you build the culture plan?

Different organisations have different ways of developing their plans. Sometimes, it will be developed by one person or a department that has the ultimate accountability for culture. Other times – and this is my preferred option – a cross-functional team will be put together. This team will use the information at hand and, working closely with the executives and the rest of the business, will refine the culture blueprint, brainstorm new initiatives and review all existing processes to ensure they are aligned culturally. The method produces a plan that is fully owned by the organisation.

How do you implement the culture plan?

If you have defined a simple and effective governance process, the implementation should be seamless. The trick is to start measuring progress from the beginning and to engage the organisation at large. Celebrate small and big achievements, for example when an initiative is complete or when the culture starts shifting and keep communicating. Use quick wins to sustain momentum and enthusiasm.

At the end of year one or at the end of your planning cycle, review what has worked and what has not worked. Drop the initiatives that have not proven to be effective (there is no point keeping them simply before they were started in the first place) and develop new ones.  And do not forget to check that your blueprint is still clearly aligned with your strategy.

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