Breaking Out of the “Old” HR: Maybe It’s Time For Culture Development

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Jan 29, 2013

Human Resources has a reputation for being a department of policy enforcers.

While it might seem intuitive that the role of HR would be to serve the employee as a customer, this isn’t usually the reality. Instead, HR is most often seen as being responsible for protecting the interests of the business — sometimes at the expense of the employee.

According to Anita Grantham, VP of Culture Development at Infusionsoft, “HR is where dreams go to die.” So why is it that even in companies fully committed to culture HR is seen as a necessary evil?

As organizations continue to outsource the payroll and benefits function of HR and the trend toward organizational culture driving performance and engagement continues, it makes sense to assign a team to focus specifically on Culture Development.

What is Culture Development?

When employees know where they fit into the growth and success of the company they work for, the result is high engagement and shared purpose. A Culture Development team would be responsible for facilitating this alignment while enabling the growth of both the organization and its employees. This team acts in an organizational development capacity, but with a focus squarely on serving employees as a strategy for driving engagement.

Basic functions of a Culture Development department might include:

  • Talent Acquisition: For culture driven organizations, culture fit is a top priority when hiring new employees. It’s important to have someone on the job passionate about the company culture and willing to explore unique and innovative ways to vet talent.
  • Leadership Development: If Culture Development is responsible for enabling growth, someone needs to design the progression curriculum so employees have a clear understanding of what they need to do in order to grow within the organization.
  • Personal Development: Zappos employs a full-time life coach to help employees achieve their goals. Infusionsoft has a “Dream Manager.” The idea is to have someone on staff to help employees achieve personal goals, which communicates that the employees’ goals have value to the organization as a whole.
  • Environment and facilities: While the work environment is not the determining factor in whether or not a company has a great culture, environment can play a significant factor. It makes sense that if Culture Development is in service to the employee as a customer, the team would be responsible for creating a positive work-space experience that incorporates the company values.
  • Culture Evangelism: No culture development team would be complete without someone to document the culture, communicate what the team is doing and how these initiatives fit into the larger strategy for the company.

Not a function of Finance and Admin

You might be tempted to stick the Culture Development team under the F&A umbrella, but this would be operating under the old HR paradigm. By its very nature, F&A is risk averse. It wants to save as much money as possible. This thinking means that employees are still seen as expenses rather than assets.

Instead, making Culture Development a function of corporate development could create a strong alliance between the heart and head of an organization. It also indicates a strong commitment to culture as a strategy for driving the growth of the organization.

With the right leadership, this alliance can enable the team to operate with some autonomy and allows room for strategic risk-taking.

Kimberlee Morrison also writes frequently on the Infusionsoft Culture Corner blog.