Implementing and Managing your Culture Plan

Walking the Talk

To turn culture aspiration into reality you need to actively manage your culture, just as you do your other business operations. 

In this blog we’re going to look at why organisations often struggle with this, how to overcome common obstacles, and how to measure success

Why are so many organisations struggling to manage their culture plan?

We talked in a previous blog article about what a culture plan is. While many companies have a plan, a lot are facing challenges putting them into practice. In our experience, there are three common reasons for this: 


1. Trying to do too much, all at once

Many organisations we work with are ambitious, have plenty of good ideas and are keen to move at pace. The combination of these drivers often translates into hundreds of people-related initiatives across the company from various sources, all scheduled to land in the same 12-month period. 

2. The current culture resists

Any form of change management involves confronting the challenges of the current state. For example, in cultural terms, if you're trying to introduce simplicity, high accountability, or innovation and yet the most common behaviour patterns in the culture today are complexity, lack of discipline, and risk aversion, then you’re likely to meet significant resistance to efforts to introduce a different way of thinking and acting (at least in the initial stages). 

3. Size and scale of the change challenge

The goal of a culture plan is to send different messages about expectations of behaviour to encourage people to embrace and demonstrate something new. However, it’s hard to achieve message cut through and have real impact in large complex companies that have hundreds of thousands of employees. The challenge is often compounded by operations spread across diverse cultures, geographies, and lines of business, each with their own particular priorities and challenges.


How do you address the challenges of effective culture plan execution?

To overcome the common challenge of trying to do too much, all at once:


Keep it short and simple

We have a mantra of ‘do the fewest activities that will make the biggest difference to your culture.’  That means sweating down everything that is going on, or could be included, to 5–10 projects that, if delivered, will have an outsized impact on your culture. 


Work with what you have

Culture plans do not have to be stuffed with new initiatives. Often the biggest impact can be made by working with your existing business and people strategies, and re-pointing or reinforcing them, so they are more reflective of your target culture goals. For example, if your performance management approach is due to be changed, what can you do with it that will support the culture shift your organisation is trying to make? 


To overcome the current culture resisting:


Sequence for impact

Identify quick wins that can be achieved in 60 days at low or no cost. Making early progress signals commitment, and tangible change creates hope, confidence, and momentum.


Long-term thinking

While short-term wins are critical, it’s important to balance them with a longer time horizon beyond 12 months, more like 18-24. Some of the initiatives in your plan should be about putting in place the infrastructure needed to embed and sustain new behaviours in your culture. For example, aligning rewards, populating your succession plan with culture contributors, or changing the culture by changing composition of the workforce through your DEI strategy.


To overcome the size and scale of the change challenge:


Spread the responsibility

Culture should not all be sitting on the HR department’s shoulders, as we sometimes find. Democratising the effort enables a more rapid spread of new behaviours and ways of working, generates ideas from all areas of the business, and creates broader enterprise-wide ownership for culture change. Small changes, by lots of people, over time, are what add up to make the difference. 


Strong planning  

Managing your culture plan effectively requires someone to have their eye on all the moving pieces and a light governance approach to keep everyone apprised of progress, ensure the right people are involved, and to maintain a regular tempo of reporting.


Movement vs. roll out 

When you’re trying to change behaviours at scale, it’s more akin to a movement than a programme that is ‘rolled out.’ We see it as an iterative process requiring a blend of delivery with a continuous feedback loop, enabling you to course correct, dial up or down, and respond to how your culture is evolving.


What are the key metrics of success? How do you measure them?

We look at three types of measures. 


1. Culture Output 

Is the plan being delivered? Are the milestones in the projects being hit when expected? This is measured via the individual initiatives in the culture plan.

2. Culture Impact

Leading indicators of whether the change is happening as you expected, measured via surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Are people seeing and feeling the changes?

3. Business Outcome

The most valuable, but hardest to measure. How is the culture change contributing to business results? For example, if you’re trying to create a culture that is more collaborative across teams and lines of business, then over time you would expect to see an increase in incremental revenue from cross selling.


Why is measuring culture so difficult? How can organisations get better at this?

Many organisations struggle to measure culture. There are a few common reasons for this: 


Not knowing what to measure. 

Culture can be an amorphous and overwhelming term, faced with the challenge of ‘measuring culture’, companies struggle to pinpoint exactly what they should be measuring. There are a range of tools for assessing culture and the key metrics associated with it.


Lack of data

For those companies that are clear on exactly what they want to measure, often the data needed to establish benchmarks, set targets, and appraise progress isn’t easily available. 


It’s a new science.

Culture is still a new concept for a lot of businesses. Often there is scepticism over whether you can, or should, measure culture. Secondly, the tools currently available for measuring culture, namely employee surveys and questionnaires, have significant shortcomings.


How can organisations get better at this?


1. Get clear on behaviour changes you want to see

Once you’re clear and specific about the new behaviours you want to see people demonstrating, it becomes much easier to identify the right measures that will let you know these behaviours are happening. Let’s say you want to cultivate a culture that is more innovative. Leading to that you may want to see more idea generation, more experimentation, and ultimately a stronger innovation pipeline. With this level of granularity, it’s possible to assign quantitative metrics to know if these changes are occurring over time.

2. Capture business impact stories 

Qualitative data in the form of anecdotes, stories, episodes of success, and the business value associated with behavioural changes not only provide a sense of what is changing and where, they are also a great source of positive news content you can disseminate to educate and amplify change as it is occurring.

3. Measure cause and effect 

While it can be hard to prove the absolute attribution of changes in culture to changes in business outcomes, it is often possible to draw a line of logic on the contribution of culture to changes in business outcomes. There are often many internal and external, direct and indirect factors that, together, cause a change in business outcomes and in our experience a change in mindset and behaviours is one of those contributory factors.


How is a culture plan different from an engagement plan?

Many organisations confuse a culture plan with their engagement plan. An engagement plan seeks to influence how your people feel about your company – whether they are satisfied, want to stay, would recommend it as a place to work. As such, plans to increase engagement are typically shorter-term and are often developed and executed at a team-level. By contrast, a culture plan is about impacting the way we work as an organisation. How we communicate, relate, make decisions, and get things done. It often involves trying to shift the deeply-held beliefs and behaviours of a critical mass of people across the company, and therefore is longer-term in nature. 

Implementing and managing your culture plan is how you make your change real. It takes concerted effort, but it’s what turns words into actions and, ultimately, better business results. 

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


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