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Why HR Leaders Are Vital for Culture Change

by Vibhas Ratanjee

Amid the war for talent, culture continues to be a popular workplace topic. It's little wonder. A company's culture profoundly influences whether talent is attracted or not attracted to a company -- and whether star employees feel enticed to stick around.

Further, employees and teams who align with their organization's culture consistently perform better on internal key performance metrics than those who do not. Just four in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that the mission and purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. By doubling that ratio to eight in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 33% improvement in quality, or in the case of healthcare, even a 50% drop in patient safety incidents.

But some organizations struggle to achieve their "ideal" culture, whether that's a culture of inclusion, engagement or work-life balance. Maybe that's because culture rarely has well-defined edges. It is a pervasive force that influences how people work together, how decisions get made, which behaviors are rewarded and who gets promoted.

Gallup has been studying organizational culture for decades. Our analytics show that in the world's highest performing organizations, HR leaders play a central role in creating and sustaining the culture their organization aspires to have. As the stewards and keepers of the culture, HR leaders are responsible for inspiring desired employee behaviors and beliefs -- and in turn, realizing the performance gains of a thriving culture.

By owning their pivotal strategic and tactical roles in shaping work culture, HR leaders can cultivate exceptional performance and prove to senior leadership that they deserve a seat at the table.

The following three roles HR leaders play can guide their efforts in transforming their organization's culture.

Champion

Executive leaders cast the vision for an ideal culture, but HR leaders are responsible for championing the cause and transforming words into actions and performance. HR leaders are the change agents who promote awareness and guide the transition from what the culture is to what it could be.

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Gallup analytics show that there are five primary drivers of culture that HR leaders can use to accelerate culture change: leadership and communication, values and rituals, human capital practices and policies, work teams and structures, and performance.

These drivers shape how employees conduct themselves, how leaders make decisions and how work gets done.

To activate and pull the right levers within these five drivers, HR leaders need to understand the current state of the culture and define the areas of misalignment between the actual culture and the desired culture. With these insights, HR leaders can create a roadmap -- aligning activities, initiatives and systems to shape the culture.

Coach

As culture coaches, HR leaders are responsible for aligning managers and employees with the aspired culture, fostering a sense of ownership for that culture and maintaining accountability throughout all levels of the company.

To do so, HR leaders should focus on both near-term and long-term culture goals -- like a sports coach who aims to win the next game and the overall championship. HR leaders need to implement immediate solutions that support the desired culture -- such as performance development practices that incentivize exemplary behaviors -- while simultaneously aligning the culture with big-picture outcomes, such as organic customer growth.

Central to HR's coaching role is educating and equipping leaders and managers to model cultural values and to own their roles in fostering the desired culture. For example, to build a culture of engaged employees, managers need to facilitate ongoing conversations with employees and proactively meet their basic workplace needs.

Consultant

HR leaders should consistently monitor culture metrics alongside other metrics -- such as employee engagement, customer outcomes and their organization's unique key performance indicators. When HR leaders have their finger on the pulse, they can make sure their culture strategies stay on target and verify the ROI of the organization's investments in its culture.

And, armed with data-driven insights, HR leaders can better consult with executive leaders on how the culture is evolving. With the right analytics, HR leaders can share immediate and long-term gains and offer strategic recommendations for the future.

By continually identifying the successes that come from the desired culture and how that culture empowers organizational objectives and outcomes, HR leaders can build momentum, increase accountability and demonstrate the bottom-line value of cultural change.

Learn more about how Gallup helps HR leaders become critical partners in cultural change.

  • Inquire about our workforce analytics solutions that connect HR data with growth and performance.
  • Achieve sustainable change through our comprehensive culture solutions aimed at alignment and transformation.
  • Listen to our on-demand webinar on predictive analytics to hear how best practice organizations integrate data into their culture and processes to make more informed decisions.

Bailey Nelson contributed to this article.

Vibhas Ratanjee, a Senior Practice Expert, is based in Gallup's Irvine office.

Gallup


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