The number 1 priority for HR directors

A large number of HR Directors are still struggling to gain recognition and credibility as strategic contributors to the top team. This is hardly surprising as many still fail to engage with strategic goals that will create true value for the organisation.

Rather, they often get bogged down in tactical issues like implementing new bonus schemes, hiring junior staff or helping fight fires on the employee relations front. Of course, all these issues are important and often very urgent, but they won’t earn the HR leader much respect within the C-suite, or with the broader workforce. Of course, these HR tactical issues can’t be ignored, so wherever possible, they should be delegated, deferred or outsourced.

The new HR Leader

Fortunately, there is a very different type of HR Leader, one that recognises the importance of building a great culture, a positive and productive culture where people can bring the best of their strengths to work everyday and where people feel motivated and inspired to do their best work. HR Leaders at companies like Facebook, Innocent, PhotoBox, John Lewis, WL Gore and Rackspace recognise the importance of building great places to work, not simply for the ‘badge of honour’ that this brings, but to support the company’s vision and goals. They understand that the quality of talent in any knowledge-based or service business today will determine how engaged customers are and ultimately, how much value the business delivers to stakeholders and shareholders.
There is no shortage of evidence showing that improving employee engagement and focusing on their strengths results in significant improvements in customer loyalty of up to 44%. This in turn boosts revenue, profitability and competitive advantage. These HR leaders see themselves as the “Chief Culture Officer” and understand the importance of the following 3 key levers to bring about cultural change:

How to bring culture change

1. Get culture on the agenda

HR Leaders need to have the courage to argue in favour of the so-called ‘softer side’ of HR with their colleagues in the top team. They need to demonstrate the ROI of continuously developing the culture to ensure it is engaging and attractive to internal and external talent. After all, as has been concluded by many leading business and HR gurus, culture eats strategy for breakfast. HR leaders need to become change leaders, keeping engagement and work culture high on the agenda and ensuring it gets the focus and resources it deserves.

2. Engage employees’ ideas and support

The best HR leaders engage the most creative people within and outside the business in the search for innovative solutions in building a great work culture. Every aspect of HR, from the initial hiring process and induction through performance management and reward, to development and succession, is aligned and reflective of the company’s core brand and values. This engenders a strong feeling of pride, purpose and passion among employees, they feel part of a winning team and want to work hard to keep winning. I am often bemused that HR leaders spend so much time looking outside of their organisation for ideas on how to build great workplaces rather than mining the rich human capital assets they have in their own organisation. It is perplexing why companies invest large sums of money to study how other companies create an engaging, positive workplace rather than leveraging their own employees’ talents, strengths and ideas to achieve this goal.

3. Focus on solutions and strengths

HR leaders need to embody the change they want to see in others. If they want to overcome the negativity bias and build a positive, strengths-based culture where employees do their best work and openly contribute their ideas, they need to stop complaining and walk the corridors encouraging a more positive mindset. Of course, they also need to work with their C-suite colleagues to implement processes and programmes to shift the organisational culture and day-to-day practices in favour of more positive, solution-oriented behaviours. A good starting point is to encourage employees to become more aware of their strengths and those of their colleagues, appreciating and optimising these rather than spending the bulk of their time and energy absorbed in weaknesses, gaps and problems.

A growing number of HR leaders recognise the importance of elevating engagement and positive cultural change to the very top of their agenda in order to deliver improved business results. However, this awareness is not enough. They should be bold, innovative and become a positive role model of the change they aspire to achieve in order to bring about enduring business success and a great place to work.

James Brook

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