Delivering on HR

1. June, 2020

Article:
HR and Culture

The Culture of an Organisation should always be a very important aspect for any organisation. It takes years and years to cultivate and a very conscious effort to establish and nurture. But the question is where do organisations start cultivating the culture? It is not just up to the CEO or the Executive Team or the Head of HR. Culture is all permeating and has to be part of the organisation from top to bottom just like any society.

So, how does an organisation develop and nurture this effectively and successfully?

Some organisations even feature the name Culture in their HR Departments, such as People and Culture or purely as Culture. The belief here is that by naming and making an Executive and a department responsible for Culture will automatically ensure that Culture as a concept will develop and happen in that organisation. This is pure fallacy.

Our studies in Sociology and Anthropology have clearly demonstrated that Culture evolves and develop organically. However, some intervention can assist and facilitate the development of it towards a particular direction. Here is where social engineering can play a part. What clearly comes to mind is China’s one child policy or Singapore’s attempt to “match make” graduates to meet and marry and procreate “more intelligent” children. Similarly, organisations have also attempted to do this. IBM did in the early days establish a “blue and white brigade” with a “uniform” for all executives or one hotel chain was renown for establishing an “Armani” look for their executives. This is an external manifestation of a cultural norm as a form of differentiation. There are other internal practices which becomes adopted as a norm and every employee is expected to follow, which then becomes a part of its “Culture”.

While in countries like China, negative punitive measures were put in place to impose these norms, Singapore had positive tax incentives. Companies would definitely, unless in totalitarian regimes, not impose obvious punitive measures, they would certainly have indirect reinforcement measures that encourage conformity to the accepted norms by way of recognition, promotion or even remuneration incentives.

A company wanting to influence the establishment of a “formal” aspect of Culture, particularly when a re-structure happens or a new CEO and Executive team comes on board, will have to re-evaluate in re-establishing its Vision and Core Values. Following on from this, these core messages have to be communicated with the whole organisation through a series of town hall meetings with the CEO as the driver of the process. In presenting the Vision and Core Values, solid examples of accepted behaviour exemplifying the Vision and Core Values as it represents in each and every department should be presented.

The process doesn't end here. There has to be follow up meetings at the departmental and sectional levels to reinforce the message and to take it to an understandable level right down to the line staff. This will also ensure that all levels of staff can buy into the messages and take ownership. For example, if one of the core values espouse the value of profitability of the organisation and everyone’s contribution towards it, how does this translate to a meaningful example to line staff? Can their contribution towards saving electricity costs in turning off power when not required be a realistic example?

Great thought and effort has to go in to designing and developing these cultural norms to lay the foundations and it takes time, in most cases years, to develop the behaviours and have it engrained into the company and for everyone to accept and practice on a continuous basis.

It is just not the responsibility of HR. The whole management team and leaders have a key role to play in this. However, HR can drive and steer it to ensure that the key elements are well represented, consistent and is applicable to all departments and sections of the organisation.

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