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A new model for company culture fit

Why did you choose to work in HR? I doubt that it was to adhere to rigid, painful processes, or to sit in lengthy disciplinary hearings. On the contrary, HR professionals I work with tell me that they entered the profession to help people become the best versions of themselves.

Particularly over 18-months of a traumatising pandemic, employees have flexed their approach to work and have remained incredibly loyal to their organisations.

However, we have asked our employees to bring their whole selves to work and that is exactly what they are doing.

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Post-COVID, new rules are hastily being drawn up around a modern form of social contract between the company and its employees.

Issues such as misogyny, racism, mental health, sustainability, and social responsibility (to name but a few) are high on their agenda, meaning that new lines of acceptable behaviour, tolerance and inclusivity are being defined.

The old cultural orthodoxies of retribution, of ‘power over’ rather than ‘power with’, command and control structures, and a perception of ‘one rule for them and another for us’ are no longer tolerable nor tenable.

The cultural tide is changing at a pace faster than any of us have ever experienced.

Ignoring the needs of their people or paying lip-service to company culture puts companies at risk of a slow inexorable death or being brought down in blaze of social media publicity.

People are unequivocally the strategic driver of the 21st century firm and the benefits for organisations who promote trust, learning, fairness, growth, inclusion, insight and collaboration are huge.

This is an exciting prospect for HR, which has potential to return to the root of why it exists and become the most strategically important function within the organisation.

However, HR currently sits at a crossroads, with tough questions to ask itself about its role in the modern workplace. Does it want to be a driver of engagement and talent, or the custodian of rigid and corrosive policy frameworks?

I call for a Transformational Culture Model to be adopted within our organisations. This is a blueprint for a new form of organisational culture, which rejects the outdated HR systems and policies – enshrined in the standard employee handbook - and puts purpose, people and values first.

Crucially, the model relies on HR moving from traditional reliance on retributive justice models (blame, shame and punish) to a new, progressive form of transformational justice.

Transformational justice balances the rules of the organisation, rights of the employee and the need to generate fair, just and inclusive outcomes when things go wrong, rather than relying on damaging performance management, grievance and discipline procedures.

I also argue the need for the HR function to transform itself into a fully independent people and culture function: custodians of the way in which organisations treat their people, ensure justice, champion inclusivity, enable sustainability and drive performance through building a climate of trust.

Within the model, the people and culture function sits at the head of the Transformational Culture Hub – a cross-functional body – which provides leadership and governance, to create the overarching cultural change strategy, plan, resourcing and governance framework to make authentic, deep-rooted culture change a success.

The people and culture function drives culture, creates policy frameworks which are people-centred and values-based, and acts as a “people partner” rather than “business partner.” It creates strong, diverse, inclusive teams and recognises the inner brilliance of people, enabling them to become the best versions of themselves in a psychologically safe space.

This ability to be brilliant and to have the brilliance recognised, nurtured and celebrated is the key to unlocking great employee experience (EX) and world-beating customer experience.

Of course nothing comes easily. This new form of organisational culture requires a significant shift in focus and emphasis. However, the rewards are great, bringing the HR function back to exactly what it signed up for in the first place.

Surely, as we are all straining every sinew to build a workplace fit for the 21st century, we can no longer leave culture to chance. It’s time to get to work - good luck!


David Liddle is CEO of culture change consultancy The TCM Group, author of Transformational Culture and president of think tank The Institute of Organisational Dynamics