How do you define a “strong” or “positive” company culture?  How do you maintain a strong culture through organizational change?

It’s true that a so-called “strong” company culture is one where employees are engaged.   When employees are engaged performance, productivity, retention, profitability, innovation, service, and customer experience all benefit.

But as a recent Harvard Business Review article, “HR Can’t Change Company Culture By Itself,” suggests, a strong company culture isn’t the same as a “fixed” company culture.

“That’s because of the nature of organizations, where constant change is inevitable.”

“People are interesting and dynamic—and organizations are dynamic,” adds Chris Powell, CEO of Talmetrix, who worked on the front lines in HR for more than 20 years. While many times leaders may strive for stasis, cultures are always in flux, he says. “It’s impossible to create stasis with humans and with organizations. It just can’t happen.”

Rather than fight inevitable change, leaders in high-performing organizations measure what matters, facilitate relevant feedback, and prioritize findings to support and enable employee engagement.

Who Owns ‘Organizational Change’?

Today’s leaders are going beyond the question of, “How do we go about organizational or culture change?” thanks to tools that provide actionable workforce insights and data.

The question has now shifted to, “Who owns this process?”

“The answer is, too often, HR,” writes Rebecca Newton, a business psychologist, leadership advisor, and Visiting Fellow in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (1). Newton argues that organizations often have alignment on the idea they need to change, but they have a common challenge of who owns that change management process. Often times with medium-sized to large organizations, responsibility lies in the hands of senior HR executives and their team.

But engagement, which drives every organization’s business outcomes, isn’t solely HR’s responsibility.

Organizational Change Shouldn’t Be a Box-Ticking Exercise

The employee experience is maximized when organizational change is a collaborative effort. HR leaders may lead or initiate the effort, but support and implementation must be across the organization.  It is the “actions” that will determine the success or failure of a cultural shift.  In her article, Newton shares 4 key areas that HR leaders can focus on when helping business executives to drive organizational change:

1. Facilitate the research.

We often spend more time dreaming about the utopian organizational culture, while making assumptions on how close we are to that dream as we sit here today. It’s a useful exercise to envision the future state, but HR leaders need to ensure drivers are being measured, feedback is being collected along the way, and all levels of the organization are being examined.  Only then can the focus turn to the idea of organizational change.

“What do we look like now, at all levels — values, behaviors, processes, policies, artifacts? The larger the organization, the more variety we’ll get in what [the actual, existing culture] really looks like across the firm. Business leaders need to know, and HR can be a huge resource in facilitating this process,” says Newton.

2. Confirm that organizational change is possible.

Even if leaders know the employee experience needs to improve, they can be skeptical about change management efforts in general. “This skepticism is justified, as there are many examples of culture change not transpiring despite all the ‘talk’ or of the change not turning out well,” adds Newton.

HR leaders must address that skepticism head on.  They can share how organizations have had success in driving positive culture change (and business outcomes) in the past.  At the right time, HR leaders can also take the lead in communicating the importance of the action plan.  This includes how people at all levels of the organization will be held accountable.  Capture feedback from employees, thank and acknowledge the feedback, and then take action.

3. Equip business leaders with the right tools.

There’s no doubt that buy-in is needed from business leaders to make engagement ideas and initiatives become a reality. Once the priorities and expectations have been established, managers are the ones who make it happen.

Although a few may have the skills naturally, HR must be sure to equip business leaders with the skills to drive change in the organization. Don’t assume that business leaders already know how to influence culture, says Newton: “…Even [for] the most senior leaders, it can be a new and uncertain path. Few will have been involved in leading culture change before. It is not enough to engage business unit leaders to get their input on what needs to change and their buy-in to the initiatives.”

A focus on technology in the HR space has also made the tools needed to drive organizational change more accessible.

4. Support, support, support.

Throughout an engagement journey, there are times when stakeholders involved can take a break and cause momentum to take a hit. For example, too many companies feel like they can take a break once they’ve surveyed employees, as if the survey is actually the goal. Others are excited to put work into an action plan, but then are so taken aback by the survey results.  They can become paralyzed with indecision.

Business leaders must be responsible for putting into action any changes that need to be made in the organization.  HR must be there to support them every step of the way. Part of that support is in helping to manage successful “hand-offs” throughout the journey.

During such hand-offs, HR can reinforce a message of collaboration and shared ownership. “The message to business leaders should be clear from the very, very top: ‘This is not an HR project, it’s yours,’” says Newton.

Use Actionable Solutions & Tools to Drive Organizational Change

As you look to use employee feedback to measure, facilitate and support desired organizational change, you’ll want to effectively implement learnings and ongoing action steps. Download the Art & Science of Employee Engagement Ebook below to uncover insights that can help you drive meaningful culture change:

  1. Key questions to ask as you measure satisfaction, sentiment, inclusion, culture and the overall employee experience to know where your culture is “at” today;
  2. How to craft great employee survey questions based on your objectives;
  3. The top, frequently asked questions on implementing engagement initiatives—answered by top experts, practitioners and business and science of engagement

Talmetrix works with talent-focused companies to capture employee insights, analyze data, take action, and achieve organizational growth.  Contact us to learn more about our innovative, action-oriented software and service solutions.




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