Company culture: the imperative for HR

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, according to legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. That’s not to say strategy isn’t important of course, but research confirms that culture plays a huge part in organisational success.

With a bit of luck, your organisation already has a positive and well-defined company culture; one that starts from the top and permeates your whole organisation and fits the context and environment you operate in. For example, as a not-for-profit, your organisations may have a caring approach, promoting support, loyalty and teamwork, whereas a corporate city law firm is likely to have grown up around a results and authority driven approach. (Read about the eight types of company culture here).

But what happens when your company goes through a period of change? Growth, mergers and acquisitions, downsizing or shifts in your business model can all have an impact. And, as recent headlines confirm, it’s important not to assume that your company culture will look after itself. Here are 5 ways you can protect what’s best about your culture:

Make your culture visible

If you’ve not already done so, work with a cross-section of employees from across your business to describe your culture – what’s best about it, what could be improved and what you absolutely want to avoid. Then share it and embed it into everyday HR activities. That way, you can ensure everyone knows the core beliefs and values of the business.

The best cultures are the ones where managers walk the talk and put effective and frequent communication at the heart of employee relationships. You can facilitate this by making sure that the company website, employee portals, handbooks, videos etc promote your desired culture. You can also work with leaders to integrate these values into employee and management training and performance reviews, so that they’re implemented on a practical level.

Listen to your employees (all the time!)

Your people are your culture, so the best way to gauge its health is by listening to them. Internal surveys, regular performance reviews and confidential exit interviews can help you pick up on any worrying signals, as will monitoring reviews on third party sites, like Glassdoor, and talking to employees face to face. Obviously, it’s important to act on this feedback and use it as a platform for improvement, whether that’s stepping in to address negative behaviour, or better aligning the way you reward and motivate employees with your cultural goals.

Be honest about your culture

You need to practice what you preach. If your culture emphasises the importance of a strong work/life balance but employees are made to feel guilty if they don’t work long hours, or management talks about a relaxed office culture but bans the use of mobile phones, your employees will resent you for it. If you claim to care about your employee’s personal wellbeing, but treats them badly when they go on maternity leave or sick leave, what kind of message does that send out to the rest of your staff? If expectations don’t meet reality, they won’t want to stick around for long.

Hire the right people

HR professionals tread a fine line when it comes to hiring staff that are a cultural fit. When does hiring for fit become bias? When might a new employee with a different approach influence the business in the right way?
In HR, you are perfectly positioned to influence the recruitment process and help managers identify candidates that will thrive in your business and have a positive rather than negative impact on the overall culture.

Facilitate change

A ‘strong’ culture doesn’t mean fixed. The goals and strategy for a company of 100 is unlikely to be the same when it grows to 1000, and it’s likely that the culture will need to change too. In some cases, senior management may be sceptical of the need for change, nor should it be assumed that they’ll know how to help your culture evolve. HR can play a big part in convincing leaders that culture change is necessary and help equip them with the skills to drive it.

Want to find out more about what makes a strong culture? Check out these TED talks to get you thinking about your own culture and the ways that it can be improved.

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