What should we be doing?
Do you know what your company culture is? If so, is it working for you? As companies grow, evolve and adapt over time, it may become obvious, and necessary, for the culture to change as well.
The content and direction of that change should be defined by senior management (which should include HR) with input from many sources. Those sources may include employees, outside stakeholders, and customers.
Once the desired change is defined, what role should HR play in effecting that change?
First, I believe that paying attention to culture on an ongoing basis is important in order to recognize any early warning signs that a change is actually necessary. This also allows you to begin addressing the issue sooner, rather than simply reacting long after the fact. Why?
Culture affects the way the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers, and the wider community. It dictates the freedom employees have in decision making, developing new ideas, and executing those ideas. Your culture also reveals how power and information flow in your organization and how committed employees are towards your mission and values. It affects the organization's productivity and performance; it affects employee retention and your ability to recruit the best. Company culture fills the gaps between spaces where there are no rules. It helps people make the best decisions when there’s no specific policy to follow, or guides how we behave when no one is looking! In short, culture permeates every aspect of your business and how it operates.
Once the initial strategic work of identifying what your current culture is, what you want it to be, and what specific mission and value changes you’re going to make to effect that change is done, HR (at all levels) plays a big part in facilitating that change and continuing the strategic work to implement it. Here are some areas in which HR can, and should, play a role:
Communication is key. Communicating why the change is needed is vital to ensuring buy-in from all parties. Explaining why a change is needed helps clarify the intent and effectively invites employees to contribute, and can help prevent resistance – either passive or active. HR can ensure that messaging is consistent across the organization and that counterproductive communication is corrected.
Training . Provide continuous training to focus on the culture change you want to make. Staff who are appointed to culture change leadership roles should be proven change leaders, or have proven skills and characteristics that will transfer to this role. If they aren’t or don’t, a crash course in expectations is in order. Define what you expect of these staff as they help to lead others in the effort. HR should make the development of skilled leaders at all levels of leadership a priority; identifying the qualities, knowledge and competence needed for this task. Training can then be tailored to your needs and help develop these characteristics and competencies. This is bigger than simply learning new skills or tasks.
Assess Current Practices/Systems. Does your performance management program and total comp (pay and benefits) structure support the culture you want? What adjustments need to be made in order to support a change effort? Have you identified what is important to your employees in terms of benefits and pay? Offering a whole menu of perks may look great, but how many of them are actually utilized and to what extent? Don’t forget to look at any employee recognition/reward programs you have and assess their effectiveness. Recruit and hire with an eye toward the skills and competencies needed to sustain the change you’re making. Assess your current strategy to determine if it aligns with your mission.
Walk the Talk. This applies to all levels of management and leadership. HR can be the leader and clearinghouse to help ensure that what people actually do is consistent with what you say you want your culture to be. It is essential that leaders, managers and supervisors be SEEN living the culture you want. This will go a long way to inspire culture change. Employees may be able to recite your mission, vision and values, but they will only BELIEVE it when they see it and hear it from the people at the top. And they will be merciless in mocking you if they don’t.