Organisational culture change through HR? Really??

Organisational culture change through HR? Really??

HR culture change

HR create drag v culture change through HR

Sometimes, in fact frequently, when I look at organisations about to embark on change or who are agile and under constant change and flow a number of functions stand out as potential drag to the change. One of these is the HR function. Hr can be seen from the executive level as ‘administrators’ and as being less flexible than it comes to change. Some of this perception to be fair comes from their role in keeping the organisation safe and on the right side of the various laws and good practices.

A new study looks at this and asks some really useful questions for achieving culture change through HR.

Make informed decisions based on the very latest – most up-to-date research evidence. No more groping in the dark – give us a try and you will see what we mean. In HR? Try us, its free.

Are the goals of organisational culture change and HR the same?

Human Resources teams are charged with selecting, advising and assisting with the development of the people in order to achieve the aims of the organisation. This isn’t just about hiring and firing – this is about ensuring that people work together as a cohesive whole and about using their collective strengths to achieve output that is beyond them as a loose collective of talent.

Human Resources teams can (but few do) start going about this by defining and then moulding the culture that the organisation needs in order to achieve its aims.  This, the study finds, should  be the starting point.  It is not about talent alone.

HR culture change


If you are going to start creating culture change through HR, the study has some recommendations:

First define your culture

There is no solid, repeated definition of an organisational culture. The paper published in the Strategic HR Review instead describes three phases to defining a company’s culture:

Phase 1 is to start seeing the culture through the symbols, rituals, stories and other organisational events. We tend to experience and notice these cultural artefacts most when we first enter or join an organisation. These artefacts quickly become accepted as the norm as people ‘bed in’ to the organisation.

Phase 2 is to analyse how the culture shapes how people think, behave and feel in the organisation. The researchers comment “Culture shows up in the values, norms, unwritten rules, emotional responses to, or flows of how things are done in a company. Most of the above current definitions of culture follow this logic.”

Phase 3 is describing the identity of the organisation or company. The authors suggest this is often summed up in very few words – Apple wishes to be known for design and simplicity while the Marriott hotel chain wishes to be known for exceptional service.
The 5 steps to creating and building a culture

Step by step culture change through HR

Having defined the culture using the above three phases the study finds that there is a series of steps you can use to achieve culture change through HR. Human Resource functions can:

  1. Define the ‘right’ culture. This is best done by the Human Resources team asking the senior management for three things that the company wishes to be known for. The senior management team needs to be in at least 80% agreement.
  2. Create an intellectual agenda. This should be easily communicable by senior management and the HR function to staff and customers alike. The idea is that this needs to be simple and based around a few core ideas and principles that get people to think.
  3. With the intellectual agenda comes the behavioural agenda. How do you want people to act, both internally (employees) and externally (customers / clients / stake holders etc.) What is the experience you want people to have and what behaviours will lead to this experience?
  4. Design and deliver key processes and structures. The authors explain this as institutionalising “the culture through management and organization practices like staffing, training, promotion, measurement, compensation, organization design, information management, physical arrangements and leadership development.”
  5. Define and implement a leadership brand. Once the structures and ideals are in place, so leadership and HR must reflect and encourage them throughout the organisation at all times in all that they do. Usually, the authors note, this entails a ‘customer focused culture lens’ so the organisation lives and breathes its culture from top to bottom.


The paper concludes, “HR professionals who understand the why, what, and how of culture will complement a talent agenda with a more sustainable winning organization.” This the authors argue puts functions like HR and L&D firmly at the centre of organisational development and change.

Editor’s note: It is essential that all the central functions of an organisation are at least aligned with any new culture. As this paper is arguing, functions such as HR can really help to embed new cultural practices. However this only really occurs where they themselves have gone through a process of ‘getting’ the new cultural norms and practices and are embedding it themselves

Reference – available to members

Be impressively well informed

Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published

Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...

Powered by ConvertKit
Like what you see? Help us spread the word

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page