What’s culture strategy mapping and how can it help my council?

For an effective executive, CEO, HR or any other local government leader, there are certain strategic priorities that should always be included in any organisational plan, writes Fabian Dattner.

These include:

  • A community strategy
    • Reporting on the local government performance framework
    • Monitoring sustainability
    • Mandatory target setting
    • Governance and management accountabilities
    • Services funded in the budget
    • Quality and integrity of performance information
    • Budgets and forecasting
    • Health and safety issues
    • Workforce planning  

These are all important considerations for any public body reporting to both government and the community.

Curiously, this list does not include a way of measuring what the organisation is doing to build or nurture support for all these activities.

We don’t ask ourselves – or at least, don’t ask often enough – what it is like to work here? We do not agree on the leadership practices we condone to ensure we have the culture we want. More commonly, we manage performance of team leaders and staff patchily and tolerate poor behaviour longer than we should. We retain those who are most technically able (and these can be hard to find and recruit in regional communities), sometimes at the expense of cultural fit.

Welcome to culture strategy mapping!

One of the most significant things an executive can do is to spend a day together mapping the culture the team wants, to deliver on the planning promises that have been made. This is done by considering a handful of important questions.

What does that culture look like, feel like? How do we expect one another to get along? What do staff say about working in the organisation? How does the feedback from rate payers and the community on the services provided contribute to that culture?

A culture strategy map captures this. It is a plan for moving the organisation from ‘here’ – where you assess it is currently, be that engagement, performance or leadership – to ‘there’ – where you want it to be, a more effective, sustainable, and enjoyable future. Focusing on culture in this way – how people behave individually and together – delivers on the future you agreed to.

  1. Create a ‘should be’ – the vision

Executives align on a five-year vision; what do we want it to feel like to work here, how do we want people to behave, what will the community say about us?

  • Determine where you are – assess ‘as is’

Commission an ‘honesty audit’. Hear what staff have to say about what it’s like to work in the          organisation. Hear the stories they share. Pattern what you hear, don’t argue with it.

From there, you create the map. Here’s the process:

  • Link aspirational culture with ‘as is’
    • Be clear about your visionary goal (say, 5 years from now)
    • Identify a maximum of three strategic ambitions for the culture (e.g. we have the leadership we need to do what we want; our people love working for council; the community sing our praises – what you choose reflects the felt need of the honesty audit)
    • Identify a maximum of three priorities for each of your ambitions, – clusters of activities that must happen IF we are to achieve our strategic ambitions
    • Identify all the initiatives – not including current BAU initiatives – that could advance the culture, via a collaborative brainstorm
    • Map the initiatives onto an ‘important versus urgent’ grid
    • Choose a maximum of three-to-four initiatives that fall into the important and urgent grid
    • Set KPIs for each of the initiatives
  • Engage staff: Share the outcomes in series of rolling validation processes with staff; listen to and respond to feedback, primarily on the initiatives
  • Get staff to help: Ask for volunteers from the organisation to help; regional councils are sitting on a wealth of talent, and they can get stuck in structural hierarchies, with too few doing too much
  • Executives finalise and publish: Lock and load the culture strategy map and agreed initiatives
  • Good governance of initiatives: As with mainstream strategic initiatives, culture initiatives need good governance. This includes clear accountabilities, agreed timelines and budgets, agreed KPIs, celebration as they progress.

As the famous management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you don’t do anything about culture, and instead put all your effort into tasks related to business as usual, the culture you have will act as a headwind to what you are trying to achieve, when it should be acting as fuel to propel you towards all your ambitions.

Treat culture as something leaders and staff alike can work on, track progress, link to agreed outcomes and you will find within a year or two, you are all working in a very different space. Culture will become a tailwind to your shared ambitions.

*Fabian Dattner is CEO at leadership consultants Dattner Group.

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