Organizational Culture: The HR Profession's Performance Review

HR plays a major part in organizational culture and its evolution

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP April 8, 2020
Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP

​Countless articles discuss the importance of organizational culture for employees across the world. I think we spend too much time talking about culture and not enough time doing something to change the culture in our own organizations. HR plays a significant role in organizational culture and its evolution. How it performs in that role is our profession's performance review. 

If an organization has high turnover, bad management practices, a toxic culture or unethical practices, HR must deal with the problem. Is it entirely HR's problem? No. But the HR department is where organizational culture starts. We as HR professionals should be totally engaged in driving culture in our organizations.

"Culture" may be summarized in a statement I repeat in every graduate and undergraduate class I teach and in every management training I lead: "Treat people how you want to be treated." It's so simple. Why do we make it so complicated?

  • Communicating openly. Designing a culture of support and buy-in starts with consistent and open communication channels. That means not only having an open-door policy in the organization, but also spending countless hours engaging with individuals. My biggest HR successes have resulted from driving communication throughout the workplace and on the shop floor, talking to employees and union reps. (In times like these, when in-person engagement isn't always possible, we can still talk to people over e-mail, videoconferencing apps, etc.) We have to ensure that everyone is singing from the same sheet of music. If an employee brings up an issue or concern, follow up on it and close the loop. Your credibility will skyrocket. Design engaging communication strategies using the SHRM competencies of Communication, Relationship Management, Critical Evaluation and HR Expertise.
  • Handling conflict resolution. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable; how we handle it is an option. Being prepared to address conflict means you understand the needs of the workforce and organization and are capable of leading resolution and change throughout. Most people shy away from conflict, but in HR we have no choice but to be the driving force behind conflict-resolution strategies, which include having those crucial conversations. It's another opportunity to build credibility and engage the organization. Teach these skills to employees, supervisors and managers. Communication, Business Acumen, Relationship Management and HR Expertise are competencies critical to the success of any conflict-resolution process.
  • Driving business strategy. HR plays a role in understanding and driving business strategy at any level. We should know our organization's finances, operations and supply chain better than anyone else at the table, and we should be prepared to step into an operations or even a CEO role if the need arises. By driving business strategy, HR can prove it is the most important department in any organization. This will encompass every part of the SHRM Competency Model.

Key performance indicators, metrics and performance evaluations measure success and opportunities throughout the organization. If your organizational culture is suffering, fix it. There is always room for improvement—no workplace is perfect. Simply treat people the way you want to be treated.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant, assistant professor at Elmira College, and on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. 




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