Learn, Live, Lead: How Atlanta’s HR Leaders Are Implementing Culture Change

Learn, Live, Lead: How Atlanta’s HR Leaders Are Implementing Culture Change

As CEOs and investors become increasingly aware of the bottom-line value of organizational culture, HR leaders and professionals are being called upon now more than ever to shape their companies’ cultures in ways that maximize business performance. Under pressure to show results, many organizations have either tried to copy an already successful company culture like that of Google, IBM, or Netflix; or treated culture as a people problem, attempting to generate buy-in among current employees and hire more candidates who embody the kind of culture they want.

Our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, shows that these conventional approaches aren’t working. There is no one type of culture that always performs best, we find, and changing the culture by changing the people is far less effective than embedding the desired culture in the organization’s processes. A key challenge in making that happen, however, is that many organizations aren’t sure what their current culture is from an employee perspective and don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of their culture change interventions on the ground.

At our ongoing series of briefings with HRBPs, HR generalists, and other strategic HR professionals, our members are getting a chance to share experiences and learn from how their peers have been implementing this process-based approach. At our staff briefing in Atlanta earlier in November, the conversation focused on this challenge of investigating culture and surfacing the barriers that prevent employees from incorporating desired cultural behaviors into their work.

Learn: Airing Daily Experiences of Culture

One HR leader shared that their organization has appointed a dedicated “Chief Storyteller.” This person doesn’t just talk about values and behaviors at town halls and company events, but gathers candid information from front-line employees to better understand the day-to-day culture, and then brings these stories to senior leaders. This approach of uncovering and sharing evidence of company culture in the form of stories makes the examples more tangible and memorable and gives leaders an unfiltered view into how employees are actually living the culture—as well as the barriers that get in the way of them doing so.

Live: Simplified Rules for Employee Decisions and Behavior

Speaking of barriers to living the culture, leaders from an organization with a customer-focused culture shared that their company had been struggling to help associates navigate a tension that arose between that customer focus and cost-consciousness. Employees felt like their decisions might be scrutinized if they helped a customer at the expense of the bottom line, and this perception hindered them from feeling empowered to provide the best and fastest customer service.

In response, HR leaders simplified and condensed customer service guidelines into a very simple set of three rules: As long as a decision to help a customer is safe, ethical, and legal, it is permitted. Using this framework, employees are now able to respond to customer needs without hesitation.

Lead: Process-Focused Feedback to Maximize Leader Impact

Another Atlanta-area organization created a companywide social media platform for leaders to publicly praise employee behavior that reflected its desired culture. Beyond just reinforcing behavior, the platform has emerged as a channel through which employees can reveal process barriers that prevent them from living the culture. As a result, leaders are now able to systematically identify business processes that prevent employees from living the culture and work toward removing those barriers.


CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can learn more about this research in the latest issue of CHRO Quarterly magazine and by participating in our upcoming Culture Masterclass Series: Improving Your Organization’s Culture, in which we will discuss the role of HR business partners in managing organizational culture with thousands of your peers. In three sessions, the series will cover how HRBPs can rethink measurement to truly understand culture on January 30, how HRBPs can empower employees to operationalize the culture on February 20, and how HRBPs can maximize leaders’ impact on culture on March 6.