When your culture is loosely defined, siloed or non-existent at all, your foundation to build a strategic plan is shaky at best. We recently hosted Dr. Maria Church, who works with counties and cities to help define and refine their culture, ultimately leading to more effective and aligned organizations. She likens culture to the foundation of a house: “ Your strategic plan is the framework. You can implement a strategic plan without a foundation, but it will be ten times harder and more painful.”

How Culture Can Create More Effective Strategic PlansWhether your organization is resistant to change, uncertain about how to shift your culture, or lacking leadership buy in–not investing in your culture can be affecting your employee morale, employee retention, and the success of your strategic plan.

Dr. Church works with cities to identify their “why,” their point of view and their non-negotiable values—the core aspects of culture. She helps groups explore who they are and who they want to be. She then conducts an alignment audit: how do these values show up in your internal behaviours? Your hiring and onboarding process? Your budget? How do you respond and interact with your constituents? Then she looks at alignment with physical structures—how do our values show up? That alignment has to carry through to your strategy, or else there’s conflict and confusion for your team.

Dr. Church believes your culture and your strategic plan should inform each other. Your shared values can help create goals that support your “why”—your reason for being, that is already understood and experienced by your team. She adds that if the two aren’t connected, confusion occurs. “If you say that innovation is one of your values but you don't budget for innovation, then there’s a misalignment between your strategy and your culture. And that's where the pain comes in. Your team is walking around thinking, ‘you told me I'm supposed to be innovative but you don't have any R&D money.’”

But it doesn’t just come down to budget; living your culture relies on a set of shared beliefs and practices that are expressed throughout your organization—from front line staff to senior leadership. Ensuring your culture is co-created by all members of your team, and intrinsically understood by every single person, leads to better alignment and provides focus and purpose for strategic planning.

“When you decide on your values, they can also drive strategy. If teamwork is one of your values, then your strategy should prioritize cross-departmental objectives over department-specific objectives.” Dr. Church explains.

The benefits of an aligned culture and strategic plan extends beyond your internal team to external stakeholders—like your community. When one department in your organization has a win, large or small, it can give a tangible example of how you’re living one of their non-negotiable values. “Let’s use grit as an example of a core value. When you share a story of how grit was done in one department, you can celebrate it throughout the whole organization, because it’s intrinsically part of your culture. You can use that story at a staff meeting, and then share that win with your community as an example of how our organization demonstrates one of your non-negotiable values,” explains Dr. Church. You strategic plan can bring your culture to life in a tangible way.

You also need engaged, talented and motivated employees to put your strategic plan into action;that starts with recruitment and retainment practices. With a well-defined culture that is expressed in both your behaviours and actions, finding employees who are culture fits and can understand how you operate and buy in to your purpose is easier. This makes for more engaged employee relationships and stronger retention.

If your organization is in the middle of strategic planning, or about to start—consider exploring your culture and defining what matters to you in the process. We’ve included some tips below from our recent webinar with Dr. Maria Church to help you start thinking about your culture and how you can help bring it to life across your organization, and harness it to create more aligned and effective strategic plans.

Quick tips for shifting your culture

1. Assess your baseline 

2. Start with your “why”

3, Enrol the execs

4. Have two-way conversations with all departments and staff 

5. Live your culture through language and behavior

In the webinar, our experts uncover the foundational building blocks to successful strategy implementation. You’ll learn about tools to help you understand the current state of your organization and the blockers you're facing, how to align culture with strategy and tips for achieving buy-in. Watch the full webinar here»