In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been contacted by three HR directors of small firms about their organizational culture.  Okay … that’s not unusual.  But what IS unusual is that all three told me they were directed by their CEO/Managing Partner/Founder to change the organizational culture or to fix the organizational culture or to develop the organizational culture.  Hhmmmm … that’s not the job of an HR person.  The HR director definitely needs a seat at the table when culture is being discussed and debated, but most HR people are not Organizational Development experts – they’re HR experts.

Culture is a really, really complicated, messy thing.  Organizational culture is normally driven first by the values and attitudes expressed (explicitly or implicitly) by the founder(s) of an organization, then becomes embedded in the organization through behaviors that reflect those values and attitudes .The truth is that very few leaders of organizations purposely define and develop their organization’s culture – they just kind of let it happen.

If you’re trying to change the culture of your organization or your department, here are some key steps to take to get started:


  1. ASSESS YOUR PRESENT CULTURE.  You can do this by an anonymous survey of your employees.  There are lots of questions that can help you understand what the current culture is, but what you want to uncover are the values driving organizational behavior.  What are your employees’ perceptions of those values?
  2. DEFINE WHAT VALUES ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO BOTH THE LEADERSHIP AND THE EMPLOYEES.  What you seeking to learn here is the degree of alignment between the two.  If there’s a significant mismatch, changing the culture is going to take hard work.
  3. UNDERSTAND IT’S NOT THE OUTWARD GESTURES THAT COUNT. We all hear about the fun, fantastic places to work where employees get a weekly massage, can play kickball in the halls, have no office walls, and have napping pods open to everyone.  None of these perks count if the culture is cutthroat, excessively competitive, and disrespectful of others.

What counts to most people are openness, authenticity, trust, and commitment to everyone’s development.  These are what align people to organizational goals and gain their commitment to the organization.

Defining and developing culture is not something that can be handed off to an HR director or department.  It’s not quick and not easy.  There are a lot more steps than just the three noted above.  If a leader is committed to leading from core values and to getting employees aligned with those values, it’s not something he or she can hand off to someone else.  It’s a steep learning curve for those who’ve never done it.  A good OD consultant may be a good investment to jump start the process – but they’re not ultimately responsible for driving the initiative either.  You are.

2 replies
  1. Jimmy says:

    Well said, Laurie. Funny how that happens, huh? But I think Human Resources is a good place to begin the conversation, as they typically have their fingers on the pulse of the organization. Strong HR can drive culture along with strong executive visioning.

  2. Laurie Glover says:

    Great point, Jimmy. HR is often the first – and best – place to start the conversation. My biggest issue is with the C-suite thinking that culture is something that can be delegated to any single department or person.


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