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How leaders block culture change

As organisations continue to grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic and prepare for life in a post-pandemic era, business is it at one of its most critical inflection points in its history.

In fact, the stakes are so high, as senior executives, the decisions we make over the coming months with regards to the changing needs and expectations of our human capital, could ultimately determine the rise and fall of our entire enterprise.

And whether we like it or not, in the new world and amongst the next generations of talent, culture will undoubtedly take centre stage as an organisation’s greatest asset and differentiator.

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According to the latest research from the OC Tanner Institute, organisations who have remained steadfast to investing in their culture will continue to outperform their competitors by an average of 30%, whilst the performance gulf for those that haven’t is predicted to broaden by as much as 60%.

Further, over the next five years, predictions suggest that the organisations who continue to merely tick a box and pay lip service to such causes might not even be around to tell the tale.

A sobering prospect when for so many organisations culture remains the sole responsibility of the CPO and their HR functions to fix, while the rest of the organisation sits back and continues to do exactly what its always done, the way it’s always done it, but expecting a different result. Wasn’t that Einstein’s definition of madness?

If the pandemic has taught us nothing more it’s that our employees expect a much deeper connection with their organisation.

They want to work for inspirational leaders, who provide a human employee experience.

They expect to be part of a culture, where regardless of who they are or what they believe in, they can be just that, without fear of judgement or discrimination.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the best talent (who continue to take their pick of the organisations they work for) expect to work flexibly, on their own terms and with complete autonomy over how their work and home-lives coexist.

Even for those of us who genuinely love our jobs, will any of us get to the end of our lives and think 'I wish I’d spent more time in the office'?

So what then of HR and the role we play in either driving this new world agenda or supporting it?

As someone who has dedicated a large chunk of their career to developing organisation culture that makes people want to jump out of bed and go to work of a morning, I can safely say that the opportunities to do so have been few and far between.

Why? Because without the requisite sponsorship, appetite and investment of the boards, CEOs and executive committees we work with, the role of CPO can fast become an isolated, thankless job.

As a good friend of mine recently described it, the role of HR director is a glorified babysitting job that exists merely to cover the basic behavioural gaps of senior leaders who, quite frankly, are already paid too much to be making those types of mistakes in the first place. 

As HR leaders candour remains a quality that, until recently, has been highly underrated.

Polling suggests that the majority of HRDs from the largest UK firms are considering moving on. Go figure.

Regardless, right now, as an HR community, I believe we stand in front of one of the greatest opportunities of our career – to completely rethink the role and purpose of HR.

And not just as a ‘necessary evil’, but as the most fundamental driver of an organisation’s future and performance. Cheers to that.


Jordan James Barry is chief people officer at the Motor Insurers'​ Bureau