3 keys to driving culture change

Wendy Lenton, director of people and performance for George Weston Foods aims to create culture change

Role modelling expected behaviours in a business is critical to setting standards as a HR leader and driving culture change, according to Wendy Lenton, director of people and performance for George Weston Foods.

Driving culture change.

“What you walk past is what you accept,” she said. “We need to role model what we expect from leaders, so we should not walk past poor behaviour; that’s not what we should be doing as leaders.”

Behaviours are more likely to be adopted if they are proactively role modelled and reinforced at every level of an organisation, particularly at the line manager level, she said.

“I do believe in front line leader programs, rather than just leader programs at the top,” said Lenton, who explained that George Weston Foods is currently in the process of rolling out a program to some 800 leaders across the business.

As HR leaders, Lenton said it is important to reinforce behavioural change, particularly with other leaders in the business. “For me, having that courage is important,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be confrontational. It can be as simple as acknowledging a small step in the right direction to help everyone understand what’s expected of them.”

Using safety to drive change
Where there is a culture and behaviours that are resistant to change, safety can be a good anchor to start the process, she added.

“If you think about safety in our business, for example, you can’t walk past something that’s not keeping people safe, because it could have a really significant impact on an individual or even on a whole site, and I think people relate to that,” she said.

“We have used safety as a way to really ignite the culture and accountability in this business. In Australia and New Zealand, I think the idea of keeping your mates safe is something that people relate to very well.”

Safety scored highly in the company’s engagement survey, according to Lenton, who said this can be especially helpful in driving change among a blue collar workforce.

“If a leader walks past something or notices a behaviour that is not safe and calls that out, that will be talked about. So safety can be a good platform for initiating change and expected behaviours on a broader scale.”

CEO and CFO support
Driving behavioural change in a business also requires the backing of a supportive CEO, and Lenton acknowledged the role George Weston Foods’ chief executive Andrew Reeves has played in the process.

“Andrew and I have respect for each other and a collaborative, sometimes intuitive relationship which allows for high challenge when required,” she said.

“Trust is strong, and when Andrew needs advice or just time to talk things through, he knows I’m there. You cannot underestimate how difficult and stressful it is for high achieving CEOs in a turnaround.

“The HR director can add enormous value by playing back what we hear, see, or believe; our perspective can be critical to their success if applied wisely.”

An equally important relationship in the business is with the CFO, and Lenton said this helps her in connecting the people agenda to the business and making sure it stays current.

“We often work through how we will tackle issues and challenges in regards to business and our people; it works very well and shows the sophistication of the CEO and CFO to contribute more broadly in this way and understand the value it can bring,” she said.

For the full interview with Lenton and feature on the turnaround of George Weston Foods, see the current issue of Inside HR magazine.