Not since the term first emerged in the 1980s has there been so much discussion of organizational culture. Considering that discussions of culture on investor calls have increased 12 percent in the past year, it’s not surprising that heads of HR are keen to get this challenge right. When CEB, now Gartner, brought together 20 heads of HR in Melbourne earlier this month, there was a strong consensus in the room: It’s no longer enough to talk about your organization’s culture, you need to be able to walk the walk.
(Before we go further, it might be valuable to provide a shared definition of “culture” as it relates to organizations. As CEB defines it for the purposes of our research: culture is the set of behavioral norms and unwritten rules that shape the organizational environment and how individuals interact and get work done in that environment.)
Historically, a lot of the discussion about organizational culture has been focused on finding the “perfect” culture, with one side advising a “one-size-fits-all” approach and the other proposing different cultural approaches to suit different industries. However, as one head of HR in the room pointed out, we need to turn our focus away from finding the “perfect” culture and instead look at the systems and processes at work that are stopping us from achieving sustainable culture change. Even when business leaders in the C-suite are very effective role models, internal processes often stop employees from fully embracing the culture that the business needs to drive, creating disconnect between the organization and the people tasked with moving its strategy forward. This is one of the key findings of our latest study on culture change management, which CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read more about here.
This disconnect leads to problems, because even though 70 percent of HR leaders are confident that their organizations can define the culture they need, few are seeing true results in making this culture a reality. When HR leaders fail to create the culture the business needs, such as a culture of innovation, safety, or cost-efficiency, it means that other, less desirable attributes make up the reality of their current culture and stand in the way of the organization’s progress. During our discussion in Melbourne, one of the HR leaders in the room even said that this struggle between desired culture and results had seen progress in some business units move backwards.
Even though we know where we want to go, we seem to be at a loss when it comes to how to actually get there. What our research discovered is that the heads of HR at organizations who have gotten this balance right needed to close three key gaps:
High-potential employees, or HIPOs, are supposed to be an organization’s future. However, correctly identifying which employees have the most potential is often a difficult task, due to ambiguity surrounding the term HIPO and the fact that most managers don’t seem to believe their organizations’ criteria for high potential are accurate. Moreover, HIPO selection is easily “politicized”: In a recent Harvard Business Review post, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Abhijit Bhaduri discussed six ways managers often play politics in identifying, promoting, and developing HIPOs, namely the politics of intuition, self-interest, avoidance, favoritism, ageism, and gender:
In short, the politics of potential can prevent organizations from upgrading their leadership talent and make data-driven decisions an anomaly rather than the norm. Too many times we have seen the CEO’s favorite candidate be put through a formal assessment simply as a way of confirming a decision that has already been made in advance, not for merit.
Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has touched on all of these political dynamics, and fortunately we’ve found some straightforward and practical solutions to the problems identified here. Organizations using best practices are ensuring their HIPOs are managed as enterprise assets and not held captive to the whims of a manager. Here are some real-world examples of how organizations are overcoming the six political barriers Chamorro-Premuzic and Bhaduri identify (and CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can click through the below links for more information on our research):
The politics of intuition occurs when managers “follow their gut” when nominating HIPOs based on their own judgement of employee performance and future capability. Instead, all managers within an organization should have standardized, clear, and business-relevant criteria to identify HIPOs. CEB recommends evaluating employees for potential against three key characteristics: Ability, aspiration, and engagement. Critically, managers need to be involved in validating the details of these criteria to ensure that HIPO they are not an abstract HR concept. Our recent study on high-potential employees shared a real-world practice Black Hills Corporation uses to align HIPO identification to changing business needs, in order to identify the best HIPOs to fill emerging leadership opportunities.
Employee monitoring technologies represent the cutting edge of workplace gadgets, and these technologies are already becoming increasingly common, from sociometric badges to tracking devices at desks to sentiment analysis and even experiments with microchipping employees. Olivia Solon at the Guardian recently explored the next generation of this tech:
How can an employer make sure its remote workers aren’t slacking off? In the case of talent management company Crossover, the answer is to take photos of them every 10 minutes through their webcam. The pictures are taken by Crossover’s productivity tool, WorkSmart, and combine with screenshots of their workstations along with other data —including app use and keystrokes—to come up with a “focus score” and an “intensity score” that can be used to assess the value of freelancers.
Today’s workplace surveillance software is a digital panopticon that began with email and phone monitoring but now includes keeping track of web-browsing patterns, text messages, screenshots, keystrokes, social media posts, private messaging apps like WhatsApp and even face-to-face interactions with co-workers. …
Domestic violence in an employee’s home life is the sort of situation HR hasn’t traditionally had to deal with. Most companies—65 percent, according to SHRM—don’t have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy, but Fortune’s Ellen McGirt argues that this is a tremendous oversight:
The total costs to the US economy of intimate violence – including medical care, mental health services, and time away from work exceed $8 billion a year. The figure for lost productivity alone is some $727.8 million. That’s 8 million paid work days lost each year. …
Victims have a wide variety of practical needs. They may need time away from work for legal, financial or psychological counseling – which they may not be able to afford. They may need time for court dates, and for meetings with teachers or other caregivers. They may be injured or traumatized and need time to recover. They may be having trouble focusing at work, particularly on stretch assignments. And because domestic violence can be deeply humiliating, it may be difficult for them to tell people around them what they need. They may not even know themselves. And the perpetrators often harass them at work.
“If intimate partner violence is not currently part of your inclusion plans,” McGirt asserts, “it needs to be.”
Several new surveys from the UK illustrate the importance of managing against the pressure and stress employees experience at work. In one study, Marianne Calnan writes at People Management, 20 percent of employees said they had taken time off work to cope with excessive pressure:
A further 18 per cent of the 2,000 employees surveyed by the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA) said they had cried at least once every fortnight because of their job. More than a third (34 per cent) said they didn’t like their job, citing problems such as not being paid enough (9 per cent) and a lack of development opportunities (8 per cent).
The research, released to mark Stress Awareness Day today (1 November), also found that 35 per cent of workers regularly considered leaving their job. The same proportion also said they often missed family occasions or personal engagements because of work commitments. …
It has been a rough year for Uber on the talent front, where it has faced a reckoning over an organizational culture that stands accused of enabling rampant gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The scandal led to the firing of 20 employees, including executives, as well as the ouster of founder Travis Kalanick from the CEO position in June, while former US Attorney General Eric Holder was hired to lead an independent investigation into what went wrong. It also sent Uber directors scrambling to explain to investors and the public what they were doing to detoxify the ridesharing company’s culture, such as hiring Harvard business professor Frances Frei as senior vice president of leadership and strategy.
Dara Khosrowshahi, the former CEO of Expedia who took up the helm of Uber in August, has moved quickly to assure employees and investors that he is taking the culture clean-up seriously and that the kind of behavior that was allowed to slide under Kalanick would no longer be tolerated. In a LinkedIn blog post published on Tuesday, Khosrowshahi laid out a new set of cultural norms for Uber that includes a sharper focus on inclusion and ethics:
We celebrate differences. We stand apart from the average. We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome. We encourage different opinions and approaches to be heard, and then we come together and build.
We do the right thing. Period.
In keeping with best practices for culture change management (including what we have found in our own research at CEB, now Gartner), Khosrowshahi said this new set of values was developed through a bottom-up process that engaged employees directly in making decisions about how the culture needs to change:
It is not news that digitalization is forcing organizations to change faster than ever, and that organizational cultures need to equip employees to keep up with the pace of change. In fact, the average organization spends $2,212 per employee per year on culture management, and 82 percent of HR business partners say culture is very important to accomplishing their organizations’ strategies. To address these issues, a group of 57 innovative HRBPs, HR generalists, and other strategic HR professionals gathered with CEB, now Gartner, in New York on November 2 to discuss how to use best practices in culture management to arm their organizations for the digital age.
Our latest research on culture looks at the traditional strategies organizations use to manage organizational culture, what works well, and how organizations can shift their approaches to get cultures that drive business performance. This means throwing out the traditional people-focused playbook on culture management in favor of our research-backed, process-focused strategy. CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can see more insights from our culture study in the latest issue of CHRO Quarterly magazine.
Thursday’s meeting was a fantastic opportunity to learn how different organizations are enacting the key teachings of our culture research, through steps such as:
- Engaging employees to gather unfiltered feedback.
- Teaching employees to navigate culture barriers.
- Redesigning processes to support the culture.
Here are some of the ideas HR practitioners shared and discussed in our New York gathering last week:
Moving From Annual to Daily Culture Measurement
One organization shared that they moved from measuring culture once a year to asking employees daily culture questions as they logged into their workstations. The results are available to managers in real time as long as four people on their teams participate on a given day. Leaders then have the autonomy to decide how they will use the daily feedback, but based on our research, they will now consider empowering employees to be the ones who take action.