I have a reputation for being cynical, but I don’t think HR can create a culture. I think HR and executives work together to create an atmosphere, which is a construct for extracting the best and most aspirational behaviors out of a group of disconnected people who come together for the sole purpose of work.
Culture is something grander and loftier than a particular set of behaviors and norms that people adhere to in the workplace.
If you attend the Laurie Ruettimann School of Human Resources, you will learn that creating a culture takes four things: creativity, collaboration, curation and continuity.
- You need an environment that nurtures big thinking.
- You need people who work together without being racist bullies, sexist jerks, homophobic morons or otherwise bigoted human beings.
- You need someone who advocates on behalf of the employees who have big ideas and break the rules.
- Then, you need an infrastructure or governing body that is larger than your executive suite and dedicated to championing all of those efforts through the existing political channels.
Your company probably doesn’t have culture.
If anything, it might be a cult of leadership that worships at the altar of your CEO or an attractive employee. When those people leave, it’s back to making widgets and thingamajigs in a depressing environment.
My talent advisor colleagues think I’m nuts. They think culture is a thing. When I asked them to weigh in on how to create a killer culture, they had very vocal opinions.
Tim Sackett is the executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, which is a very successful staffing firm in Michigan. His mother started the company. For the Sackett family, culture is everything.
If you find yourself at Costco picking out a ping pong table to improve your culture, you’re doing it wrong. There’s no equation for a great culture. It’s one part great visionary leader, two parts ping pong table, then mix in free pizza and beer on Thursday. You still might not get it right. Culture is mostly space and time. Get the right people on the bus who are ready to work hard, at a time where your business can thrive.”
He also adds:
To have a successful culture you need a leader that is part Dr. Phil, part Mark Cuban and part Willy Wonka!”
(I hate all of those people, by the way.)
The Hiring Site’s resident professor, Dr. Matthew Stollak, has a more academic approach. He said:
Every company turning a profit has a successful culture. No one espouses the glories of, or wants to imitate, the culture of a company that is out of business.”
(That’s true. Don’t emulate failures. Thanks, Matt.)
Culture can’t be captured on an employee engagement survey. An engagement survey is a cloak that often hides how employees feel. Unfortunately, HR buys the survey as the gold standard report card.”
Steve thinks your company’s culture exists in the trenches. If you want to know how employees feel, dig deeper. I think that’s probably true about most anything at work. If you wish to know the truth, you need to step out of your comfort zone and be prepared to have a human-to-human connection with your workers.
Finally, I asked Neil Morrison how he feels about culture. He told me that he liked yoghurt. (Get it? You culture yoghurt. And you spell it with an “h” if you’re British, which he is.) So basically I don’t know how he feels about it, which sums up my entire friendship with Neil. He’s a human resources leader who likes bad puns. That’s enough for me.
Let me sum this up for you: Whenever some HR consultant talks about culture, I think he’s talking about creating a pleasant atmosphere for work. My talent advisor colleagues disagree with me. What do I know? They might be right.
But wherever you fall on the spectrum of this debate, nobody will disagree that creating a great place to work is hard. As talent advisors, you’re the fulcrum between employees and management. Good luck in creating a balanced, collaborative work environment. You need it!
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