I get a little miffed every time I see HR take lead on a company’s culture. Sure, it’s part of our repertoire of items we have influence but it is by no means our responsibility. The CEO is in charge of company culture, not HR!
Where did we get derailed?
I think that HR went through a cheer leading phase in the mid-2000’s that we haven’t been able to shake off. Corporate culture became a buzzword that we jumped on and decided that this was something we were to take on as our responsibility. Yeah, let’s add that along with an ever-growing list of legal and compliance changes along with a changing workforce and a ton of other things we are tasked with managing. WTF were we thinking?
So if HR isn’t in charge of the company culture, who should be?
The company culture should be created, articulated and driven by the CEO and senior executives in the firm. When HR drives the culture initiative, it loses its authenticity and makes us the scapegoat. Furthermore, why should we create a “culture plan” when the CEO and executive team are responsible for the direction of the business? Leaders set the goals and offsetting culture to HR eliminates culture as a significant initiative the firm’s leaders are responsible for.
Imagine the impact your CEO and leadership team could have driving the culture. If the leaders create and own the culture initiative, it will be on their dashboard of items to discuss at every meeting. The topic then becomes an item they own so they will have to report on it just like every other business initiative they are responsible for.
HR should definitely collaborate with senior leadership in the creation of the goals, execution, and monitoring of corporate culture. After all, we’re the advocates for our employees so we should be there the ensure their voices are heard. The conversations should not revolve around what “HR is going to do about a culture problem” but how HR will support the leaders’ vision. We should also be able to call bullshit when leaders are not keeping their eye on the culture shift needed in our companies and we can’t if it’s our initiative.
I will admit I used to believe HR owned culture but a few years ago, I had an executive who changed my outlook. I was the journey champion for a significant culture awareness initiative and was partnered with this senior executive to help execute the plan. I spent three days in a workshop learning about the Best Place to Work survey results and HR’s plan to change our corporate culture. Of course, I went into my meeting with the executive with my little stack of reports and some ideas of what we could do to fix the problem.
Before I even got started, the executive told me, “Hey, I own this. It starts here.” As he pointed to himself, I realized my plan was about to change. Honestly, it was liberating to know he would take the helm and had a vested interest in driving the results. Over the next few months, he assigned goals to his direct reports and my role was to support him and his team, not drive the initiative.
The results were surprising to me but really they shouldn’t have been. Since this initiative was driven by the segment’s senior leader, his direct reports followed his lead and cascaded the importance of this initiative. The line of business drove the ideation process as well as reporting results monthly. The engagement level was nothing like anything I had been a part of before. There were several times when I had a hard time keeping up with the ideas and projects being created by the business units. And even though this initiative was roughly four years ago, it is still a focus the executive has on his dashboard to discuss during his “all hands on deck” meetings with everyone in his department.
Once HR relinquishes the responsibility to own corporate culture, it allows itself to function more like a consultant and less like a mix between the corporate police and cheerleader. More importantly, it places the responsibility where it needs to be-with the senior leaders of the company. The result? Shit actually gets done because it becomes a priority.
So who owns the corporate culture at your company?