3 ways HR can help executives drive real culture change

3 important steps HR leaders need to take in realising culture change

There are three important steps HR leaders need to take in working with executives to drive and realise genuine organisational culture change, according to Deloitte.

HR plays an important role in this process, and HR leaders can help coach executives to achieve important outcomes in the process of culture change, said Phil Mottram, the culture lead in Deloitte’s human capital team.

The first step is helping executives to own the “shadow” they cast on their organisations.

“A leader’s impact, or shadow, can be felt by what leaders do (how they act), what they say, what they measure (pay attention to), and what gets prioritised,” said Mottram, who explained that this was a pivotal facet of any culture change initiative.

“Alignment/misalignment between these elements, espoused values and desired culture will determine whether a culture change initiative is successful, and/or whether new cultural attributes get embedded into business as usual (“BAU”) ‘ways of working’,” he said.

The second most important step in culture change is to shape and align organisational context to effect both behavioural change and culture change over time.

“By changing/aligning organisational attributes like brand, recognition, workplace design, performance metrics, processes, ‘the content’ of communications, leveraging different forms of organisational influence, and specific organisational ‘habits’, leaders can shape/nudge individual, team, and leadership behaviours in a direction that better supports strategy execution,” said Mottram.

A third important step in making culture change happen is to avoid trying to change the whole culture in one mega-initiative, he explained.

“Instead, get leaders to focus on supporting the adoption of key behaviours and mindsets in specific workforce populations that have a major impact on achieving desired outcomes,” said Mottram.

“Once embedded, spread the behaviours and mindsets to other areas/units/teams in a contextually relevant way.”

“A leader’s impact, or shadow, can be felt by what leaders do (how they act), what they say, what they measure (pay attention to), and what gets prioritised”

Mottram also spoke about how organisations are adapting to work via ‘virtual’ teams while maintaining cohesive and consistent cultures, and observed that using virtual teams to undertake work will feel different to doing work in teams where team members are physically present.

“Leaders and members of virtual teams need to work harder on relationships and communications,” he said.

“They need to form good habits involving the use of support tools and technology to ensure the right communications and information are shared to get work done effectively and efficiently.”

The sub-culture in a virtual team and a physical team will also be different – since their ‘ways of working’ (another way to say culture, said Mottram) are different, due to geographic differences, methods of communication, and so on.

“However, at the same time, they can hold the same work values, adopt the right behaviours with customers/stakeholders, and share the same mindsets.

Because their contexts are different, the expression of these organisational values, desired cultural behaviours and mindsets may also feel/sound/look a little different – but that’s okay,” he said.

“We believe it should not be about getting complete consistency.

“Rather, it is about working with the virtual teams on their expression of values, behaviours, mindsets to ensure alignment across teams and with the organisation’s strategic direction.

“Sharing best practices across virtual teams will increase similarity of performance across teams, and is likely to create ‘consistency’ of outcomes/results,” said Mottram.

“Leaders and members of virtual teams need to work harder on relationships and communications”

Kirsty Robinson, digital HR lead in Deloitte’s human capital team, also observed that the HR function is evolving in a number of important ways, and she said HR has been trying to be a strategic partner for years – and has not succeeded.

“There are a number of reasons for this, but process optimisation is not the reason,” she said. “Process optimisation will serve to facilitate automation and the ability to cover compliance with minimal effort – a necessary task, but does not drive revenue.”

She said HR is (and should be) evolving to consider how work is changing, and how HR’s role will change with it.

“For example, the gig economy requires a change in attraction strategy, employment contracts, performance, remuneration and wellbeing strategies,” she said.

“Flexible/agile organisations requires a change in people leadership [and] soft skills of workers.

“In short, everything we do now will not work with this new way of working, so the role of HR can now be about helping organisations and their workforces navigate these changes.”

In the process, it is important for HR to act as owners or custodians of a purposefully designed employee experience, according to Robinson, who said the HR mandate needs to include the definition and measures of success for employee experience.

“Many organisations talk about employee experience, but does anyone really know what that means?

“Many organisations believe it is employee enablement delivered through consumer grade services and platforms; others believe it is employee engagement and how to build an aligned and engaged workforce.”

Employee experience at its most complete is both these things and more, she said: it includes giving the workforce meaningful work, hands-on management and leadership, providing them with a positive work environment, and opportunity to grow, and finally building trust in leadership.

“This is all delivered through the physical, technical and cultural environment you design for your workforce; we believe that HR are the custodians of this social contract between your employees and your organisation,” she said.

“In the marketing department, the approach to designing compelling, desirable and usable products and services comes through talking directly with their customers”

HR can also learn a number of important things from marketing in realising both an optimal employee experience and better business outcomes.

Robinson said the importance of employee experience is now becoming commonplace, however, how organisations approach designing and delivering this experience is still through a platform/technical-first lens.

At best, all HR and employee-centred initiatives will be designed and implemented through co-creation with HR business partners, and not through directly co-designing with those most impacted – the employees themselves.

“Across the hall in the marketing department, the approach to designing compelling, desirable and usable products and services comes from talking directly with their customers,” said Robinson.

“The business case has been proven, in the customer function, of bringing users and customers directly into the design process leading to reduced development and maintenance costs, improved productivity and operational efficiency, reduced training costs and lower support costs; and finally, improved credibility and adoption to the new service or platform.

“Taking this viewpoint on our internal systems will safeguard the investment HR directors and CHROs are making in their people systems currently, driving better results, better adoption and better satisfaction across the workforce they represent.”

“Marketeers have a clearly defined content and communications strategy which maps directly to their brand values and vision”

HR also needs to think about adopting a consumer-grade communications approach in building the employer brand, according to Robinson, who observed internal comms have a long way to go to meet the customer communications people have come to expect from their favourite brands.

“In 2017, some internal communications are still paper-based, most are not personalised to the audience they are targeted at, and the majority don’t honour the employer brand and brand values of the organisation they come from,” she said.

Robinson said more and more organisations are recognising the value of an engaged workforce, and cited Gallup research which found that companies with a highly engaged workforce outperform their peers by a margin of 147 per cent in earnings per share, however, Bersin for Deloitte research has found that only 23 per cent of organisations believe their employees are aligned fully with the corporate purpose.

“Recognise that your internal comms are a key pillar to defining and communicating the organisation’s purpose, and allow your workforce to engage with that shared purpose and vision,” she said.

“Marketers have a clearly defined content and communications strategy which maps directly to their brand values and vision; they recognise that not all their customer segments will respond to the same motivator or message, and so deliver personalised messages to their customer segments.

“Each communication has a clear sense of purpose, is simple and readable and has a clear call to action.”

Robinson said that taking this approach will help the HR engagement team to start a meaningful conversation with their workforce while clearly communicating the brand values and vision that the workforce resonates with.

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