Rivers of Thought
Life, Leadership, Business & Technology
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”!
“Gampaw, can I have a cookie?” The eyes said it all. Those big twinkling eyes. How could I possibly say no? I looked down and met his gaze. His face aglow with anticipation.
“You need to ask your Grandma,” I replied with a twinkle of my own.
With that my four-year-old grandson, Jordan, scampered down the hallway toward the laundry room, calling her name with every step. “Gammaw, can I have a cookie? Gammaw, can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie, Gammaw?”
His eyes looked up at her, open wide behind his blue-rimmed glasses, asking the question as much with those eyes as his mouth.
“Yes, we have Oreos.” Barely were the words out of her mouth when the face squished up, eyes squinting near tears, and the pleading voice said, “but, Gammaw, I want cookies”.
“Oh, sweetheart, Oreos are cookies.”
With that, he pivoted quicker than Michael Jordan in his prime and ran back down the hallway towards me, his face lit up by a smile so big it covered it in its entirety. “Gampaw, Gampaw, Gampaw, did you know Oreos are cookies?” The excitement of the news in his voice, the wonder of discovery all over his face, his hands, his body emphasizing. each. and. every. word!
Christmas. Family. Stacks of presents, wrapped in the season’s finest. Chaos. Sweet, beautiful, chaos. When they weren’t tearing open their own gifts, our grandson’s were busy helping everyone else open theirs.
“Jordan, would you like to give your present to Grandpa?” my daughter-in-law asked above the din of voices.
Jordan jumped up, ran to the tree, and retrieved a package wrapped in red and white Santa paper. He proudly made his way through the mountains of tissue paper, the sea of torn wrapping paper, and the hills of now discarded boxes and placed the package on my lap. His eyes peering up at me, the excitement of knowing what was inside was evident as he danced and hopped in front of me.
Channeling my mother, I slooooooooooooowly began to remove the tape holding the paper in place. Little hands reaching out to help, then pulling back, then reaching out, then pulling back. Finally, not able to maintain my tease any longer, I asked him to help and together we ripped the paper off.
Inside, were a set of matching mugs, emblazoned with the image of an Oreo cookie. The mugs came complete with a tray that attached to the side of the mugs. The trays designed to hold about a half-dozen or so of the sandwich cookie that had become our shared passion. The box also included two pairs of plastic tongs to hold your Oreo while dipping in your mug full of milk. PERFECT!
March of the Oreos
Wreck-It Ralph was my grandson Braxton’s favorite movie for several years (it still may be!). Every time he walked into our house, he would head straight for the cabinet with our DVD’s and pull out Wreck-It Ralph. Every time we suggested we watch a movie he wanted to watch…Wreck-It Ralph. Even when I hid the DVD all the way in the back of the cabinet, he would find it and we would watch Wreck-It Ralph. When Braxton and Jordan were both at our house we would watch…you guessed it…Wreck-It Ralph in addition to whatever Jordan picked.
For those unenlightened soles among my readers, the movie features Ralph, one of the characters in a video arcade game. Ralph always plays the bad guy, because, well, he always wrecks things…that is his schtick. Ralph believes if he could just earn a medal, he would be a hero and people would be a good guy for a change. So, Ralph goes on a quest to win a medal by traversing through the electrical connections between the arcade games.
He ends up in the game Sugar Rush where everything is made of sweets. He soon encounters the evil King Candy. In a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz, Ralph is spying down on King Candy’s Castle while the guards march into the front gate, a la Emerald City. The guards are Oreo cookies. As they march, they chant, “O-re-o, oree-o! O-re-o, oree-o! O-re-o, oree-o!
3 PM on Fridays. Even before the pandemic forced many of us to work from home, I was working from home every Friday I could. Since the pandemic and my change to being self-employed, I work at home full time. Regardless of needing a face-to-face meeting or a virtual meeting, you will find my calendar blocked from 3 PM to 5 PM every Friday. That’s when I turn into a superhero, or a ninja, or a dinosaur hunter, or a shopkeeper. In other words, I turn into a Grandpa.
Friday afternoons are my playtime with Jordan. Now six, going on 29, he knows when the grandmother clock strikes 3, it’s time for Grandpa to come out of his office. Since receiving the wonderful gift of the Oreo mug set, we have snacked on Oreos…every Friday at 3 PM. For months, I would announce Oreo time by chanting, “O-re-o, oree-o!” as I come down the stairs. That would usually result in a “Grandpa” (said with the tone of a teenaged eye-roll, if you know what I mean), a smile, and a scurry to get the mugs out, grab the package of Oreos, count out four each for Grandpa, Grandma and himself, and then wait patiently while I poured the milk.
The three of us then sit and have our Oreos and have a scintillating conversation about school, dinosaurs, Marvel vs. DC, and why Grandpa eats his Oreos by twisting the two halves apart, eating the side without the creme, then the side with the creme, saving the milk for last, while Grandma and Jordan love to dunk their Oreos and turn them to mush (yuck!)!
Flip the Script
After months of the same script, last week I was engrossed in work. My office door was closed, but it was clearly 3 PM according to the chiming of the Grandmother clock, there was a soft tap at my door and then it slowwwwwwly opens. With a big grin on his face, Jordan greets me by quietly saying, “Grandpa, O-ree-o”.
Be an ally!
What is my point in telling you all these stories about a cookie? Are they heartwarming? Yes. Are they cute? Yes. Do they make you smile? Yes (well, at least they make me smile).
I tell you these stories because I am an ally. I am an ally for gender equality. I am an ally for racial equality. AND, I join with Oreo and their parent company, Mondelez International in being an ally for the LBGTQ community. In the face of a threatened boycott, they stand by their decision to support PFLAG and produce “Rainbow Oreos”, and I stand with them. Here’s to you, Oreo…and thank you.
When my son Brad invited me to play golf last week little did I know my dad would be joining us. Yes, I played golf with my dad last week. It was a beautiful fall day, a little crisp when we started the round but warmed up quickly. Now some of you may be thinking, “OK, what’s the big deal?” I had not played golf in over a year. In fact, I’ve probably only played three or four times in seven years since I injured my neck. So, playing golf at all was a big deal. But playing golf with my dad was a really big deal. You see, my dad passed away in December.
I don’t know when I first noticed him. On the second hole, I bladed a 9 iron, the ball shot across the green and into the woods. Brad and I spent the obligatory minute or two searching for it before I took a drop. There he was. I could see the grin on his face. The grin he would always grin when no matter how deep in the woods his ball or mine went he would walk right in and pick it up. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone again.
Teeing off on the fifth hole, I had honors. One of the few times I had honors over Brad. After hitting my tee shot, I stepped out of the tee box and stood near the cart watching Br….dad tee off. The waggle of the clubhead, the shifting of the feet, the glances down the fairway as he lined up his drive, the “well, that will play” comment said half out loud, half under his breath, as his drive went right down the center. It was dad.
It all came back. It all came flooding back. Dad loved golf. He and his buddies would play once or twice a week all spring, summer, and fall. I don’t recall ever playing as a young kid, perhaps we did. I do remember putt-putt golf, but it wasn’t until junior high that I have any recollection of going with him. At first, I was just hanging out as he and his friends played. He’d let me sneak a shot every once in a while. Soon, I could join in for a round. We didn’t play often. Golf wasn’t my thing, baseball was my jam.
As I got older and moved away from home, we would always work in a round at least once a year. Golf at Green Lake, Wisconsin’s Lawsonia became a fixture for summer vacation. The whole family would gather for a week. Neither of my brother’s played golf, so dad and I would steal away and play a round or two. It was a tough course. As the years went by, they added a second course, and it was even tougher. Dad had names for all the holes. The Quarry (duh, it had a sharp dogleg right, if you missed, you would be in the…quarry. The Cliff (a par 3 that had about a forty foot drop down to the green, with little or now fairway. And, of course, The Dolly Parton (probably the most risque thing I ever heard my dad say…it was the Dolly Parton because, well, uh…the two big hills on either side of a narrow fairway).
As the grandkids grew, a highlight of the week was going golfball hunting with Popper in the quarry (you see, I was not the only one who always missed the dogleg). Soon, they were old enough to play themselves. It became a passion for Brad. He and I would play a couple of times a week during his junior high and high school years, and, of course, we would play with my dad, a LOT.
All of this came back as Brad and I played our round. The sounds, the smells, the warmth of the sun…dad was everywhere. It had been years since dad could be out on a golf course. I’ve missed him. But with COVID, starting a new business, publishing a book, I have to say it has been a while since I spent time with him, spent time with the memories. I didn’t know how much I needed those moments until he walked the course with us.
Insights is the weekly, thought-provoking newsletter from Jeffrey S. Ton.
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