Lunch with Leadership: Small Gestures, Big Impact

How HR can influence leaders’ impact on organizational culture

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP July 10, 2019
Lunch with Leadership: Small Gestures, Big Impact

​I recently met with the CEO of one of the client organizations I support as an HR consultant. In discussing the impact of leadership on evolving organizational culture, the CEO said told me about a unique program at the organization. "Lunch with the CEO" is a personal lunch with each person in the organization scheduled in advance, offsite, at the employee's choice of location. It is never rescheduled once it's locked in the calendar—the CEO lives up to the commitment to meet the employee for lunch.

I understand the value of time to any leader, especially in a small organization. I thanked the CEO for telling me about this program and said I would be recommending this program to all my clients. Now I'm sharing it with the HR world too.

Lunches and conversations with leadership on career advancement, organizational direction, the needs of the workforce and the like are ways to start culture change. Shifts in culture can have more impact on an organization than changes to policies, procedures and processes; they can lead to true understanding.

As SHRM-certified HR professionals, we can utilize the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) to ensure that HR influences leadership and culture shifts effectively in our organizations. This influence ranges from helping the organization manage changes that are already in progress, to helping leaders decide what changes to make and how to implement them.

Throughout your HR career, get to know more about the role you play in shaping organizational culture. Consistency is vital to the success of any leadership initiative. Below are four recommendations for HR professionals to consider when influencing leadership and culture shifts.

  1. Lunches with leadership. This practice works in any organization to open the lines of communication and build relationships. Even in larger organizations, where lunch is not always possible with every employee, small group lunches can happen with HR involvement. Hold leaders accountable to schedule their lunches and commit to those dates. The competencies of Communication, Leadership & Navigation and Relationship Management relate to commitment and consistent practice.

  2. Small group sessions. At another client's organization, the CEO and I schedule small group discussions with 10 to 15 people at a time. During these sessions, we talk with employees about benefits and perks, share information in an easy-to-read format, and have an open discussion on any other workplace concerns they have. Most meetings last no more than 30 minutes. Employees appreciate this opportunity and are open to discussing issues. Relationship Management and Communication competencies build on this.

  3. Stay interviews/non-performance reviews. Take the opportunity to also have open discussions with employees one-on-one throughout the organization. These interviews should be outside the realm of performance reviews and focus specifically on the needs of the organization and workforce. The interviews I conduct last no more than 30 minutes. Follow up on the interviewees' issues or concerns and create a summary report for leadership. Share results throughout the organization, providing metrics to ensure that proactive changes are being made. Communication, Consultation, Relationship Management and HR Expertise provide guidance to move this process forward.

  4. Mentorships and reverse mentorships. Create opportunities throughout your organization for mentoring relationships to develop organically—assigning mentors is not always the best option. Developing these relationships throughout the workplace can drive culture change and help retain talent in a very competitive labor market. I continue to seek guidance from many of my mentors for career and life decisions.

After I met with the leader of the "Lunch with the CEO" program, an employee asked us, "How do we change the culture in this organization?" My answer was simple: "You're doing it through these lunches." The organization was also doing it with stay interviews, mentorships and collaborative communication. Culture change isn't an overnight process; it's an evolving journey. HR can be the consistent cog in the wheel to ensure the organization stays on the path during that journey.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting, LLC, Elmira, N.Y., is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.


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