It has been said “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I have spent my career building plans, executing plans, leading teams to develop and execute plans: project plans, IT strategic plans, business strategic plans, and others. Never have I written, never have I seen, a culture plan, much less a strategic culture plan.
In one of those “Doh!” (picture forehead-slapping a la the old V-8 commercials or even Homer Simpson’s “Doh”), I was interviewing Mike Mead, chief information officer for CNO Insurance, for Status Go, the podcast I host for InterVision. In the episode, Mike talks about the importance of culture and gives us a call to action, “Look at what is your culture. Is it the culture you want? If it is not, do you have a plan? We have a plan, a project plan, for changing ours.”
A project plan for a culture change, I’d never thought of that before!
It got me thinking…and googling…
I’ve had culture on my mind throughout the work-from-home-shelter-in-place-pandemic. You may recall the question I posed in my blog post “Is Culture a Place?” Mike’s challenge got me thinking, what is a culture plan? How do you go about writing one? What do you include? Can it be used to extend a culture to remote/distributed employees?
My google search led me to tons of articles on creating a culture plan. Some of the articles were really good, others were too simplistic to be of much use. (Sorry, but if the words easy or simplistic are in the title, you are overlooking how incredibly hard culture change is to achieve.) I was pleased to learn the process of creating a culture plan is really no different than creating any sort of plan.
- Know where you are (the “as-is”)
- Know where you want to be (the “to-be”)
- Develop the steps to get you from the “as-is” to the “to-be”
- Identify success factors
- Identify risks
- Define the metrics to measure progress
- Put a governance structure in place
I found a lot of great information out there. One that really stood out to me was the “Strategic Culture Plan” by Galen Emanuele of ShiftYes. In it Emanuele lays out the three steps you will need to take: Gather Feedback; Create the Plan; Implement the Plan. It actually aligns quite nicely with the eight steps I mentioned. The meat of his work is in Step 2, where he defines five sections for creating the plan. I believe the reason most culture initiatives fail (and why so many toxic cultures exist) is in sections one and two.
Creating Your Plan
Section one is your driving story and purpose. Emmanuel asks you to answer two questions:
- What is your company’s origin story?
- Why are you in business — why do you exist, what is your ultimate or higher purpose as an organization?
This reminded me of a post I read a few years ago, “Your ROI is not a vision”. People don’t get behind numbers, they get behind a vision and a purpose. What is yours? If everyone on your team does not know the origin story and why your organization exists, you are doomed at the outset. Financial metrics are important, but they are not your “why”.
The second section is an interesting combination of values and a code of conduct. Too often we stop at defining our values. They end up being nice platitudes on a poster in the break room but fall by the wayside in the day to day operations of the business. “We value teamwork” is meaningless without clear examples of what is meant by teamwork.
I encourage you to grab a copy of the “Strategic Culture Plan” from ShiftYes. Gather feedback. Do you have the culture you think you have? Do you have the culture you want to have? If you answer no to either of these, develop your culture plan and build the culture you want, intentionally!
I started this post with confirmation of the saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. I’ll end by dispelling a different saying “old dogs CAN learn new tricks”!