How HR leaders can help drive company culture

Jayesh Menon, HR Director, Moet Hennessy Asia-Pacific Singapore, shares six ways in which HR can create a value-added culture.

About the author

Jayesh Menon

Jayesh Menon, HR Director, Moet Hennessy Asia-Pacific

Menon has over 15 years' HR experience, and has been hands-on in setting up new locations and global shared services across multiple countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

He has also been instrumental in staffing leadership teams from scratch, to managing HR operations for about 80,000 employees, and leading a team of about 197 HR team members in several Fortune 500 companies.

Just before I started writing this article, I came across an apology from the chairman of a US$13 billion company for the way they fired an employee as part of “cost optimisation”.

The employee who was let go had secretly recorded the conversation and uploaded it, which created a backlash against the company. While it was a generous offer from the chairman of the group, I felt terrible for the HR person who was heard on the call and was at the receiving end of the backlash against the entire process.

Though I can’t be 100% sure, I will take a calculated bet that this was not an HR decision alone and that it was a company culture that was driven by the senior leadership, and which just happened to be executed by the HR person in the spotlight!

Once again, in this case or any case where HR issues come to light, thanks to social media causing extreme embarrassments to the company leadership – even contributing to the forced resignations of CEOs – HR can help take the front seat in driving a cultural change that would add a lot of value to the company and its standing in the world.

Peter Drucker famously said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The truth is that in today’s social media-savvy workforce and generation, who and what consumed this “breakfast” are all laid threadbare for everyone to have an opinion and impression.

Here are some of my thoughts on how HR leaders can contribute to creating and driving a value-added culture.

Belief: Everything starts with a belief, and in this case, you have to believe in yourself and your ability to contribute. My personal experience is that the single most common reason why people win or lose in an effort is the belief or the lack of it. If you want to change/drive culture, believe in it and believe in yourself being able to contribute to it. This will help you to lead by example.

Show the value: In the past, culture has been considered as an elusive topic and been considered by most as a “soft factor” which is hard to quantify. While there are many like Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM who wrote that “the hardest part of a business transformation is changing the culture – the mindset and instincts of the people in the company”, having the conversation with your business leaders on what is wrong or right with your culture is not easy.

I suggest a mixed model to counter this. You can use your employee engagement results, external data like the one I quoted in the beginning of this posting, and combine it with academic research (using google scholar if that helps!).

Understanding the psychology of change: Change is never easy and adults don’t change unless they find a real need to. This is even more complicated for something as complex as culture. It would be good to apply a model like the awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement (ADKAR change management methodology from organisational development firm Prosci), or a similar one that is easy to adopt and apply.

Reward and Recognise: No matter which level of organisation you are in, people love to be recognised for their contribution. Have an reward and recognition programme where you can recognise those who lead by example.

Communicate: The only thing that is more important than communication in driving culture is communication itself! Although there is no prescribed way that works best, keep in mind that the employees would always like to know the “whys”, and the more you communicate it to them, the more people will accept and adopt a plan.

Be a coach and be there: HR is the conscious keeper of the organisation and one should act like one. As a coach, you are not there to only give good news, but to drive change and performance. Chances are high that no one has the entire view of the organisation (apart from the CEO!) as much as an HR leader has. This would help you to be a credible coach to the business leaders and be there for people when they need you through the transition period. 

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