We live in a constantly changing world and our day-to-day reality as Peter Drucker said is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Such is the power culture exerts; any attempt to come up with innovative strategies, which seek to mobilize cultures stuck in the inertia of “we have always done things this way here”, will face a wall that is hard to bring down, though not impossible.
Given that organizational culture has been created and nurtured not just by whoever the founders were but also by all those who contributed to the organization’s growth and upkeep over time. So, awareness that organization culture arises with the purpose of lasting can help with understanding the power it has over all areas, processes, tools, habits and attitudes of people—coming to the realization that a company only changes when people change.
In the words of Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines “culture is what people do when no-one is looking” and achieving cultural change is complex, because it requires a change in mindset, and a change in how things are seen.
Full cultural transformation takes time and effort as well as proper commitment from the people who want to do it, because no one changes if they do not see the need to change.
In a process of cultural change, HR plays a key role in bringing organizations up to date. In the HR-Culture double act, the HR role is inexorably shaped by the company’s culture, whereas culture is shaped by the milestones, times, resources invested and the strength of commitment of the people contributing to growth in business, technology and people.
Perhaps that is why when you ask people from different sectors and areas about their perception of what value HR brings to an organization, one of the most common responses is that it is a department of low value and low relevance, whose main functions are to manage payroll and to sign off approvals.
Many of us professionals believe that the true value of HR is not just in managing payroll, contracts or regulatory compliance in Occupational Risk Prevention (which until now we knew of as Personnel Administration).
Its true professional value lies in the ability to become a partner aligned with business strategy and to act as an agent of change for people management. HR professionals are needed who can become advisors, skilled consultants to respond to business and people needs, by bringing in their knowledge, skills, and an attitude of service, but not servility. Xavier Marcet stated that while HR Management has to do with measurement indicators, people management has to do with trust. In turn, trust has a lot to do with honesty, namely expressing what you think and feel from a position of assertiveness rather than of apologetic sincerity.
So, HR is a reflection of the culture of the company, and this leads us to distinguish between 3 types of scenarios, in which culture shapes the value HR brings to the organization.
- Old fashioned companies – “HR is just a springboard”
These are companies with short-term vision and very oriented to the company’s P&L bottom line. They do not give any importance to HR intangibles such as talent development programs or succession plans which do not bring added value immediately. These companies change more slowly than their environment and they are governed by inertia.
This culture leads leaders to have a skewed view of the HR department, spreading this attitude to employees far and wide. Leading is about serving and being servile, and that implies humility, something that is not common in such organizations.
In such companies, HR. is still a department, whose functions are “hire, pay, fire” or they are even seen as the “bad cop” of the organization.
- Fake or cool companies – “I look like what I’m not/ I don’t do”
Managing the company so it looks like a modern company adapted to reality, while the management board “ticks the boxes”, where organizations with an HR department launch all the corporately-correct processes for talent, training, engagement, and more, and even communicating, even though in reality they are neither given importance nor prioritized in the agendas of managers or the rest of the employees. In such companies, projects are approved by consensus among stakeholders, the same people who know that they will never be carried out, because they themselves will boycott it.
These companies need authenticity, leaders who are credible and make sense of things, because what has value is what we do, and we set an example through this.
- Innovative companies – “Best place to work”
They practice what they preach; they implement and roll out a multitude of actions for development and for facilitating people and tasks management. Launching these actions successfully requires the management team to endorse and actively advocate through their participation in some of the sessions, demonstrating clear examples of growth or lateral movements in the identified key talent cohorts, namely professionals who deliver above-average results. Furthermore, if the Communications unit rolls out a plan to give them visibility in the company and HR becomes personally involved and delegating only what is necessary, then it will be possible for HR in such companies to be considered a mediator between management and employees.
In an environment of continuous change, professionals are needed not only to be able to adapt to the new times, but also to have a proactive attitude for their own learning if they want to stay abreast of the times. This requires upskilling, keeping up do date in their area of specialization, and even become the promoters of change within organizational structures, where the paternalistic model becomes obsolete giving way to working with collaborators who contribute with greater professional maturity rather than knowledge.
The HR mission is to contribute to the company’s growth and bring value to employees, and this requires the HR leadership to work towards empowering itself to become a strategic partner of the company’s executive team. This entails having the courage and energy to deal with resistance from managers to accepting change and from the team of people making up an HR department. This comes with the moral duty to continue learning to be brought up to date at the level of knowledge and skills for people management, and being an example of proactivity, commitment and self-criticism.
Only this way we will make others see us as a valuable partner for the company.