How HR Should View Workplace Culture

How HR Should View Workplace Culture
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HR’s View of Workplace Culture Needs to Change
Can you honestly say that your workplace culture supports your business goals?  If not, it’s time to take a second and thoughtful look at your culture and treat it as a business challenge.  In our opinion, HR should view workplace culture as a strategic imperative to improve business performance.

Unfortunately, many HR executives continue to take too narrow of a view of culture.  They tend to think of culture as tied solely to values and organizational health and as peripheral to tangible business success.  This narrow view is exacerbated by the fact that many business leaders already ignore or minimize workplace culture because they don’t believe it has a quantifiable impact on business performance.

But culture at work is much more than simply corporate values and employee engagement.

The Definition of Workplace Culture
We define corporate culture as the way work truly gets done on a day-to-day basis.  Smart leaders know that organizational cultures exist by either design or default. In other words, in every organization there is a combination of assumptions, practices, and behaviors that define the collective attitude of a company’s workforce.

In some organizations this combination has been carefully crafted over time to best execute a coherent strategy; in others it has reactively evolved without ensuring that it is helping to move the strategic priorities of the business forward. High performing cultures help to accelerate both business and people strategies.

The Problem with Many Corporate Cultures
A recent study by Gartner found that 69 percent of HR leaders do not think that their organizations have the necessary culture to drive future business performance.  The same study also found that most employees were not clear about the needed culture, did not believe in the current culture, and did not observe behaviors consistent with the desired culture.  It looks as though there are many opportunities to improve cultural clarity and alignment.

The Importance of Workplace Culture
Culture-savvy organizations and leaders understand the importance of culture and leverage their culture to outperform their competition.   Top performing HR Executives know that a misaligned culture is a mistake.  And the research backs them up.

  • A recent Harvard Business School research report described how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business.
  • Our organizational alignment research shows that cultural factors account for 40% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer retention, and employee engagement.

What Culture Do You Need to Improve Performance?
Your strategy must go through your culture and your people to be successfully implemented.  Once your strategy is clear enough and agreed to by all key stakeholders, your next steps to get aligned are to:

  1. Understand Your Current Culture
    To create high performance, your culture must be healthy enough and aligned enough to accelerate and not hinder your strategy. That means that you must assess your current culture to know where you stand in the eyes of both the executive team and the rest of the organization.
  2. Define Your Needed Culture
    Once you understand your current culture, it is time for leaders to define the culture that is required to best execute the strategy across ten key cultural dimensions. While values and employee engagement initiatives can, and should, often be led from the bottom-up, we believe that the needed culture should be defined by the same people responsible for crafting the overall strategic direction.
  3. Prioritize the Cultural Gaps
    Once your current and needed cultures have been identified, it’s time to identify the top 2-3 cultural shifts that will have the biggest impact on people and business performance. As with any change initiative, it’s important to select changes that are possible within your unique situation.
  4. Create Workstreams to Close the Gaps
    Once you have defined the culture priorities in terms of the behaviors and norms that drive key business practices, it’s time to form project teams to make sure that current systems, processes, practices, policies, assumptions, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs change to create a healthy and aligned workplace.

The Bottom Line
For culture to make a difference to the people and to the business, culture must be purposefully crafted and nurtured to align with and support your unique organizational goals and priorities.  Done right, shifting to a purposeful, well-designed culture that aligns with your overall corporate strategy is simply good for people and good for business.

To learn more about how HR should view workplace culture, download The 3 “C’s” Required to Create a High Performance Culture

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