HR Roundtable: Who Drives Culture in Your Organization?

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Mar 27, 2012

As the masses gathered for the March HR Roundtable in Cincinnati, they were very excited because everyone was coming together to talk about “Who Drives Culture in the Organization?”

So often, everyone jumps to “well, Senior Management drives culture. We can’t do anything unless they bless it.” This Roundtable was meeting not only to dispel that myth but to give more purpose to HR in relation to culture. To get started the attendees tackled the following three questions:

  1. What components make up a VIBRANT culture?
  2. Why does HR not lead culture?
  3. How can we (HR) effectively DRIVE culture?

As the people broke into small groups, there was a palpable commotion happening as everyone took on the questions. It was honestly hard to bring everyone back to share, but once we did, they had amazing things to tell everyone!

What components make up a VIBRANT culture?

  • Transparency — It was really intriguing that this was the first answer. The thought was that there are many “hidden” and “assumed” components of culture that no one speaks about, but everyone is supposed to “know.” This is silly and often deters from things being great. Having an environment where there is clarity is phenomenal and should be a goal all companies strive for.
  • Being Diverse — Now, this isn’t the EEOC “pick-a-label” diversity. This is understanding that absolutely every person is different, diverse and has incredible strengths to offer. HR needs to take of the Diversity Program binders and start embracing the vast landscape of unique qualities that people bring to work each and every day.
  • Give People a Voice — Really. Do this. Don’t give them systems where they are “allowed” to work through the various channels of appropriate contacts. Let them share, innovate and create! If they can openly share ideas, regardless of level in the organization, you will hear quality ideas.
  • Embrace Change — We need to quit trying to “manage change” and embrace it instead. Change occurs whether we manage it or not. So, having a culture that knows that change is happening is much more comfortable with a flow of things vs. having everything be a start/stop mentality.
  • Empower Employees — The underlying issue here is “permission.” If employees are allowed to do amazing things – they will. There needs to be a true lack of fear or retribution in a culture. Substitute the ability for consistent empowerment and see what happens.
  • Excitement towards a common goal  — People love to rally around things. Not true? Look at the fanaticism around sports teams and events. If you have goals that generate a common good for those involved, you will have a culture that many will envy.
  • Flexibility — Say this with me  … LET GO! Our systems often stifle people in the name of structure and conformity. If you allow flexibility in schedules, meetings, ideas and feedback, people will rise to support this, not abuse it. All employees long for some form of flexibility. Let them stretch a bit and see what happens.
  • FUN! — Ironically, this component was offered last which is very telling. People WANT to enjoy what they do and the culture they do it in. However, they are hesitant and this is an incredible opportunity to pry open new avenues for creativity and new approaches to our work. Try it !!

Why does HR not lead culture?

  • We’re afraid to — Let’s be honest about this. HR is more comfortable managing systems than leading them. (NOTE – Remember that I’m in HR as well!) It’s a fact that HR is taught to be cautious and hesitant just in case a liability situation occurs. However, it is crippling as well because there are amazing HR talents waiting to burst past the fear to show companies what they can do.
  • Senior Management doesn’t allow it — Remember the myth? If we feel we always have to ask to do anything, the myth continues and becomes a reality. HR can model things to Senior Management (which they’re looking for) and see where things go.
  • HR isn’t representative of the company — Ouch! Why wouldn’t HR exemplify what the company represents? If this is happening, then HR needs to have a gut check and see how to fix this immediately. HR cannot think that it will ever be relevant if people see it as existing outside the culture.
  • HR isn’t visible — Sounds like a broken record, but it continues to be a factor in too many companies. Instead of this being brought up, HR needs to break through and change the perception. It’s on us.
  • We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid — HR people have, at times, become resigned to the labels and stereotypes of its position and role within organizations. You can’t break stereotypes unless you refuse to be one! Remember that.
  • We don’t want to — This isn’t on anyone else but HR. You have the opportunity to drive culture (see below), but you have to want to do it. It isn’t a job factor, it’s an exciting chance to move an entire company forward. How cool is that?

 How can we (HR) effectively DRIVE culture?

  • Flatten the squeaky wheels –– Our focus as HR, and in organizations, in general is toward the people who are exceptions. When we do this, we miss the vast majority of people who BRING IT every day. Look at your focus and pay attention to the amazing people. Just give the squeaky ones some oil and move on.
  • Get out and engage with people — You can’t expect engagement in others if you’re not engaged yourself. It is such a better approach to be intentional with others. They long for it from HR and from the company as a whole. Give them the chance to see you taking the time to really be there for them. You will see incredible results – guaranteed!
  • Communicate — It comes up every meeting, but think about it this way. If you want the culture to have certain attributes, tell people about them and then make them happen !! Take ideas to the execution stage and get them out of the clouds. Communication doesn’t have to be words, emails, posts or Tweets. Communication needs to share the actions that you’re taking.
  • Show Senior Management the value of culture  — Quit asking if you’re allowed or not. Be intentional with them and show them how culture is the key component of why employees stay or leave your organization. They may not even be aware of this. It’s your door to the C-Suite. Knock it down and open the horizon for them.
  • Listen  — So often when we think about communication, it’s about us talking or sending an e-blast to everyone. We need to stop, breathe and listen. That alone can radically change a culture. Try it!
  • Be brave and start with yourself  — There is no greater witness to others than your actions. If you are a champion about culture personally, it’s a lot easier for others to understand your intentions vs. just issuing some edict about having more fun at work. This isn’t about ROI, it’s about humanity. Be a person first. If you are truly genuine about this, there is no limit to what you can do through HR for your company’s culture and leadership!

Another successful Roundtable wrapped up and people left geeked to take on their own corner of the HR universe which was absolutely perfect! Make sure to join us in April when the Cincinnati HR Roundtable is going to discuss “What’s your Social Footprint?”