Company Culture cannot be changed by HR alone

Oceanic Pharmachem Private Limited (OPPL) believes that one major challenge for an organization creating a culture change is ownership; which is just as much of a leadership concern as an HR priority.

A strong culture is vital for organizational success, as is evidenced by the influence of culture on leadership, employee commitment, customer satisfaction and innovation. However, a strong culture is never static and as the organizational goals change over time, so too should culture. But there’s one barrier that holds many organizations back from genuine and successful culture change: ownership.

The answer is, too often, HR. As with most medium-to-large organizations, official responsibility for shifting organizational culture lies in the hands of senior HR executives and their team.

While culture change can be an important and exciting project for HR, making it HR’s sole responsibility doesn’t work out. Too often, it devolves into a transactional “box-ticking” exercise, because of competing priorities. So unless it’s the official responsibility of business unit leaders, it’s hard to move culture change to the top of their agenda when there are so many other formal responsibilities. Particularly when they know that HR, who tend to have greater skills and expertise in this area, is supposed to be leading the charge.

True culture change means altering the way the organization operates. It shapes the way people make decisions, get their work done, what they prioritize, and how they interact with colleagues, clients, and customers. It is really only successful and powerful when business leaders see it as their responsibility, and see HR as a resource for helping them achieve it. That’s why culture change has to be a collaborative project.

HR leaders can help business executives successfully execute culture change by doing four things:

Facilitate the research phase

To move from an existing culture to a desired, future culture, a lot of time is spent to facilitate conversation and consultation for the change, but not enough time to have a tangible, meaningful understanding of the existing state. The current culture has to be studied at all levels – values, behaviours, processes, policies and artifacts. Business leaders need to know, and HR can be a huge resource in facilitating this process.

Convince leaders culture can change

Many senior leaders are, in reality, very sceptical that culture really can change. Most have only seen culture change when drastic internal or market circumstances have forced it upon the organization. This scepticism is justified, as there are many examples of culture change not transpiring despite all the “talk” or of the change not turning out well. HR can help by sharing examples of how organizations have, in line with their long-term strategic objectives, proactively and positively driven culture change.

Teach the leaders how to change it

It cannot be assumed that business leaders will know how to influence culture. Some may have the expertise already, while others may find that it comes instinctively. But for the rest, it can be a new
and uncertain path, since they may not 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. Only when these business leaders are equipped with the skills to drive culture change, only then can they be given ownership and be held accountable for its success.

Have a formal “handoff”

When the culture change project is handed over to the business and changes are made to facilitate the new culture, the message to business leaders should be clear from the very top that the project is of the company, not of the HR. HR is there to support, help, and facilitate the change, but ownership of making these changes does not lie with them; it lies with the business unit leaders themselves.

It is clear that in the life cycle of an organization, culture should change and this change is best led from the very top, driven through equipped, accountable business unit leaders, working collaboratively alongside HR.