How to Prioritize Your Culture Work

At the end of one of the phases of our culture consulting, we help clients create a “Culture Playbook.” It’s basically a list of things they will do inside their organization to either change or protect specific aspects of their culture, in order to ensure ongoing success. The Culture Teams we are working with usually create an initial list of about 50 different plays, which cover a huge range of activities in terms of both level of effort and level of impact.

Their first challenge, then, is to prioritize which plays should go first. I usually see Teams gravitate toward the high-impact plays, which makes sense, but I also remind them of an important factor to consider: the value of the “quick win.” When you embark on culture change, it is important that the whole organization can see you making progress fairly quickly. You just spent time and effort gathering data from people and analyzing it. Everyone saw that part. So they expect to also “see” you starting to make change.

If you start by doing the long-term, high-effort projects, the change won’t really be visible for some time. So I am often recommending that the Team includes a few plays that may not be high impact, but ARE low effort—so you can do them quickly and visibly. I call these the “making it real” plays. You don’t need too many at first, but you definitely need some. These can include things like instituting a new “all hands” meeting, or making that Culture Team a permanent part of the organization. They’re easy to do, and visible to everyone.

Of course, if you ONLY do the quick wins, then your people will view the culture change efforts as “window dressing,” so you’ll also want to at least announce some of your longer-term, higher-impact plays, like implementing a new suite of collaboration and communication software (i.e., an intranet) across the whole organization, are starting to develop clearer career paths system-wide. It will be a while before those plays really bear fruit, but these kinds of plays complement the “making it real” plays—we call them the “making it permanent” plays.

So as you do your ongoing culture management work, pay attention to your mix of making it real and making it permanent. If you skew too much to one side, you run the risk of losing internal support for the change.

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