For the most part, working in human resources consists of handling all the everyday administrative tasks that relate to managing a workforce. Ranging from processing payroll and administering benefits to hiring and firing employees, these procedures make up the bulk of the typical day’s agenda in HR, and that’s well understood.

However, there are also bigger, less tangible questions that an HR department must answer, such as: How can a workforce establish a culture?

Culture is a nebulous term, and it’s taken on a variety of meanings. It could refer to the inclusive or exclusive nature of the professional environment, the general attitude around the office or the specific actions that people carry out each day. It’s up to each company’s HR office to decide exactly what culture will mean to them.

Increasingly in 2014, it will become near-impossible to ignore the culture question altogether. Everyone wants to work in an office that has values, and employees will certainly notice if their workplaces have none. They may even start to wander elsewhere.

According to Human Resource Executive Online, there’s an overwhelming awareness today of the need for workplace culture. The news source recently cited the results of the 2013 Culture and Change Management Survey from New York-based consultancy Booz and Co., and among 2,200 executives, directors, managers and employees polled, 84 percent said culture was critical to their companies’ success.

Furthermore, 96 percent of those same respondents said some form of culture change was needed within their organizations, and more than half – 51 percent – said a “major culture overhaul” was necessary.

DeAnne Aguirre, a San Francisco-based partner with Booz and Co., told HRE Online that she wasn’t shocked to find the support for culture change so close to 100 percent.

“The fact that culture is recognized as essential to an organization’s success – and yet it is not seen as an important topic on the agenda of senior leadership and is not effectively managed – perfectly explains why people feel a change is needed,” Aguirre said.

Many business benefits
“Changing the culture” may sound like a vague term with no concrete backing, but if HR professionals dismissed it as a bunch of hogwash, they’d be mistaken. Enacting a real shift can have significant positive effects for any business.

Adam Zuckerman, a consultant in Towers Watson’s Chicago office, told HRE Online that culture changes can lead to competitive advantages for a company in its industry.

“There is growing recognition of that fact among business leaders,” Zuckerman said. “The reality is that culture is one of very few truly sustainable competitive advantages. Companies win not because of what they do, but because of how they do it. And how they do it is determined by culture.”

If an HR office can bring about culture change, it will help with recruiting – job applicants will take notice, and superior talent will come flowing in. The positive impact will also be seen in employee retention, as fewer people will become disillusioned with their offices and start to quit. This will save companies money, as few HR ordeals are more expensive than losing a worker and recruiting a replacement.

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