HR and Culture

HR and Culture

“Growing a culture requires a good storyteller. Changing a culture requires a persuasive editor.”
R. Lilly, speaker and author

Human Resources can be a great storyteller and editor, but writer’s block comes in many forms. When editing an existing culture, it is often wearing a suit.

Your workplace is toxic. Turnover is high. Social media is rife with derogatory comments about working in your company. Sales are not where they should be and nobody seems to care. People “punch in” and “punch out” without knowing (or caring) that they have not contributed one iota to the company’s goals that day. Your business has become a training ground where unskilled workers come to learn so they can get a “better” job elsewhere.

HR’s Role in Fixing Culture

Human Resources is responsible for:

  • identifying the core issues (via employee and management feedback),
  • making recommendations to senior management,
  • creating policies that reinforce the desired culture,
  • coaching managers on implementing changes,
  • ensuring new hires are a good fit for the desired culture, and
  • setting the tone by walking the talk.

Where has HR Fallen Short?

You hired an HR professional to help, but not much has changed.

  • Most employees did not complete the feedback questionnaire, so it is still unclear what the core issues are.
  • The recommendations to senior managers were considered unrealistic and they felt that time and money could be better spent elsewhere.
  • The policies created are not consistently enforced and most supervisors don’t even know they exist.
  • A lot of the managers declined HR’s coaching. They either “winged it” or ignored the changes.
  • New hires who were chosen because they fit into the desired culture seldom stay more than a few weeks.
  • HR has been less approachable, less effective, and more hostile toward the management teams.


HR can show senior management the doorway to great culture, but the CEO holds the key.

“A company’s culture is a direct result of its leadership – the CEO is the one who sets the tone, for better or worse, for the rest of the company.” – C. Luman, CEO HireVue

Without buy-in and support from the CEO, HR will not be able to implement the changes needed to succeed. If the CEO doesn’t take the plan seriously, neither will the rest of the senior management team, or their managers, and so on. HR’s “plan” becomes a bad joke.

These are some of the possible reasons for the failures listed above:

  • Managers told the employees the questionnaire was a waste of time and/or told them not to complain about anything if they did fill it out.
  • The recommendations to senior managers were deemed unrealistic because the CEO didn’t seem to be that invested in them. In fact, most managers didn’t think there was anything wrong with the culture that a few terminations wouldn’t fix.
  • The policies created were not taken seriously and management resented HR’s intrusion. They pretty much ignored the policies, and certainly didn’t waste time teaching them to the supervisors.
  • Most of the managers didn’t really want to change anything. Besides, HR doesn’t know anything about how things work around here.
  • New hires who fit the desired culture soon discovered that the existing culture is nothing like they had hoped. Disillusioned, they found work elsewhere in a better environment.
  • HR has been walking alone, everyone else following their own directions or just sitting by the side of the road where they were when the journey began. When approached with issues, HR feels they can’t help because the managers seldom listen to, or cooperate with, the solutions. This results in HR being ineffective and sours the relationship with the management team.

Sure, it’s all “management’s” fault, right? Well, it starts at the top. Does the CEO really want a better culture? Is he ready to empower HR to move forward?  Can he deal with wounded egos (including his own)? Is he willing to devote time and money toward the plan? Does he recognize the value of the recommended changes? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then HR is doomed to fail.

“The way I think about culture is that modern humans have radically changed the way that they work and the way that they live. Companies need to change the way they manage and lead to match the way that modern humans actually work and live.”
Brian Halligan, CEO, Hubspot

We all know that people are not the same as they were 50, or even 20, years ago. They have different expectations, different priorities, different stressors. So how can you expect a 20-year-old HR program work for them?

You don’t have an 8-track player anymore because they are obsolete. Your 8-tracks wouldn’t fit into your phone or iPod, so you tossed them, bought iTunes instead and have discovered so much music you didn’t realize existed! Maybe it is time to toss your old HR playbook and try something new. You never know – you might see a lot of potential you never noticed before.

If your culture is broken and you would like some help navigating around the wreckage, TMT will be there for you every step of the way. No judgement, just solutions.