CEO to VP HR: “I don’t like our corporate culture. It needs to change. You own it; you change it.”
Okay, so maybe the statement is not usually as blatant as this one. Although, I do know of some CEOs who believe this to be true. To say that any one person or group owns the corporate culture is a nonsensical statement. Corporate culture is an intangible item that one person or group cannot hold, yet each employee can feel its impact, sense when it’s “not right,” and influence its direction in either a positive or negative way.
What is corporate culture? The common definition refers to the norms of operation, the attitudes of management and people, and socially acceptable behaviors within the work environment of a company. I’m quite sure from this definition that HR, while it plays a part, is not the owner of the corporate culture. So who does own the corporate culture? Well, let’s look at the definition – norms of operation, attitudes of management and people, socially acceptable behavior in the work environment – sounds to me like corporate culture is owned by everyone in the company.
What tips employees and leaders that maybe the corporate culture is “not right” and, for the good of the company, needs to change? Sometimes the clues are subtle; sometimes they are obvious. They may include things such as:
- - The published values and observed attitudes of the company do not match or, in some cases, are in opposition to what actually happens
- - There is a lack of trust between leadership and employees
- - Attrition is higher than desired and/or higher than your competitors
- - Employee morale is low
- - The company has been subject to multiple harassment suits
So, having identified that your corporate culture needs to change and, as the saying goes, “understanding that you have a problem means you’re not too far gone,” what next? The obvious questions are: “What is the current culture?”, “What needs to change?”, and “How do we make the changes?” I said earlier that HR does not own the corporate culture, BUT, HR can provide the expertise to find the answers to these questions – first by assessing the current culture, then by working with leadership to identify and facilitate the development of change initiatives.
Assessment of the current corporate culture can be accomplished through an employee satisfaction survey and/or exit surveys, a subject I expounded upon in an earlier blog. Questions on the surveys can identify potential issues pertaining to leadership, trust, adherence to corporate values, and the work environment. These surveys will not only provide an indication of the current culture but, with the right questions, will highlight areas of the culture that are candidates for programs to affect desired changes. The most important and absolute key to the success and the effectiveness of any program meant to change corporate culture is the willing participation, collaboration, and co-ordination with the company leadership at all levels – with the CEO as the ultimate champion of the culture change.
The cautionary note to HR then is that unless and until executives and other leaders support the culture change initiatives, no changes can occur. Leaders at all levels are responsible for giving permission to, and condoning, the attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate the culture. Without their buy-in and support, initiatives to make changes to your corporate culture would be nothing more than idle talk, wasted time, and wasted money.
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