What HR Is and Is NOT Responsible for When It Comes to Culture

INTRODUCTION

As recently as a decade ago, most CEOs and organizational leaders approached company culture as a fluffy “nice to have” element of running a business, leaving it languishing low on the HR department’s mile-long to-do list.

But in the past few years, proof of the real-world business impact of strong workplace culture and the increasingly default expectation of workplace transparency has turned company culture into a non-negotiable core business issue — a change that culminated in early 2019 with 200 of the world’s most powerful CEOs updating the definition of a company from shareholder-focused to employee- and customer-focused.1

A new respect for company culture raises new questions about who should be responsible for it. With roots spread throughout your organization, company culture is too big to simply move up on the to-do list of your HR team — it must be taken on as a company-wide priority.

As you evaluate your organization’s current approach to company culture, there are six aspects to consider: three that are rightfully owned by the HR team — and three that must be owned by your entire company. This eBook clarifies who owns what.

HR’s Company Culture Responsibilities

As the department that organizes the employee lifecycle, it makes sense that the HR team would play a prominent role in building and supporting an intentional company culture. But the activities the HR department takes on are more about guiding, mediating, and creating space for culture to flourish rather than trying to control or force culture to be a certain way.

Here are three ways your HR team should be supporting your company culture efforts:
1. Seek out employees who are culture adds, not culture fits

When company culture first became a prominent business objective, “culture fit” was a compelling hiring buzzword. But companies increasingly found that recruiting prospective candidates that matched or copied existing employee profiles introduced bias into the hiring process and generally made a company’s culture less vibrant over time.2 Instead, your HR team should be using a platform like Glassdoor, which casts a wide net to find “culture adds,” or employees whose skills and ambitions match your plans for long-term growth but who bring unique experience, perspective and expectations to the company culture.

2. Establish and support transparency and communication best practices

In today’s era of extensive online workplace transparency, one of the most important functions of the HR team is to make company culture information accessible during the hiring process and to build on the values of transparency and communication through workplace policies that encourage those behaviors. Your HR team should be active in announcing and reinforcing best practices like open door communication, non-retaliation reporting, frequent and transparent communication from leadership, and more. Creating an Employer Profile on Glassdoor — and keeping it updated — is a great start.

3. Architect opportunities to define and reinforce culture

Your HR team shouldn’t try to force employees to act in a way that aligns with your company culture. Instead, it should create opportunities for employees to learn new ways of acting that align with the company culture. For example, it’s not effective for HR to come into a culture-related situation and assess and correct an employee’s approach. But it can create a lot of culture-focused momentum if HR proactively identifies those culture-related situations and shares best practices and expectations for how employees can handle them that are in alignment with company culture.

Company Culture Responsibilities Not Up to HR

The HR department may be doing the heavy lifting on communication and consensus-building, but there’s plenty left for the rest of your organization to do. In fact, it’s up to your leadership team, your employees, and your organization as a whole to embrace the challenging reality of living your company culture.

Here are three ways your entire company should be supporting your company culture efforts:
1. Leadership and the C-Suite must model the culture they want to see

Company culture starts at the top. If you don’t have buy-in from your leadership team, and if members of your C-Suite aren’t actively modeling the company culture you seek to build, you will have little to no success in growing that culture throughout your organization. This is why it’s so important to identify aspirational culture goals based on your company’s origin story, leadership and mission, rather than whatever seems to be popular or trending in your industry at a given time.

2. Employees must be willing to participate

As your leadership and HR teams get into alignment around company culture and present employees with opportunities to learn about it and grow into it, every employee has an important choice to make: do I give it a chance and contribute, or do I go with the status quo and remain disengaged? It’s up to each individual in your company to take in new information about the company culture and make the decision to participate. If they don’t, that becomes a separate issue as you assess and make a plan to improve your employee engagement rates.

3. Your entire company must aim for consistency

The notion of a company is a group of individuals who combine their efforts to achieve one goal. If your company is going to standardize the way it works into a formal company culture, everyone within your organization must be willing to pitch in to achieve the same goal. The processes you add, the clients you take on, the products you build…everything you do must tie back to your company culture and reinforce it.

CONCLUSION

Building a culture-first organization takes everyone. Formal recognition of the importance of company culture reveals it to be a company-wide priority that can’t be limited to any one department. HR must play a critical role in structuring the development of company culture, but company culture itself must come from your whole organization. As you navigate today’s challenging hiring market, use these insights to find, hire, and retain talent that actively builds the company culture you want to achieve — and make sure your HR team has the support they need to make that company culture a reality.

Citations

1. “Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/19/business/business-roundtable-ceos-corporations.html
2. “The End of Culture Fit,” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/larsschmidt/2017/03/21/the-end-of-culture-fit/#7d953606638a