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How Does Your Department Support Your Culture?

Back in July, over on the blog, I caught the attention of quite a few Human Resources people by sending an “open letter” to HR, in which I effectively “broke up” with HR and told them I was going to go ahead and reinvent HR on my own, with or without their help. Let me be clear: I don’t think HR is evil, nor do I think they are incompetent. I just think they are stuck. They are stuck and disconnected from the direction that I think organizations–and their cultures–are headed.

I think organizations are going to continue to find more and more power by growing cultures that are more decentralized, more transparent, more collaborative, and more focused on learning, rather than just doing. We explain why (in great detail) in Humanize. One would think, given that “human” is in its name, that HR would be leading this charge. But in too many cases, they are not. I think HR professionals value those ideals, but interestingly do not invest their energy in creating cultures based on those ideals. As I said, they too often view themselves as too separate from the others in the organization. They focus on finding ways to do the HR work right, despite interference from the regular managers and workers, and aren’t focusing on how their work is creating and altering the existing culture. In fact, maybe that’s one of the bigger problems: maybe HR doesn’t pay enough attention to the role it has on culture?

But before we get too judgmental about HR, what about YOUR department? What’s your role in creating the culture. What about you, IT? Do you run the risk of becoming the next HR? The next department that others try to avoid because they are known for being the ones who always say “no?” We need IT to get the most basic things done–how are you handling that power? Do you use that to increase your power “over” the other departments? Do you spend your more of your time trying focused on YOUR department’s problems, rather than helping people from other departments solve their problems, with the help of your expertise? Do you wield your resources in service of strengthening the culture? In moving the needle towards decentralization, collaboration, and learning? If part of your response included, “Those things are not my job. I’m in IT. I don’t have time for that,” then you might be heading down the HR path.

And the same goes for you too, Marketing.  I know you’re about brand and messaging and communication, but are you actively paying attention to the connection between what you do and how you do it and an organizational culture that will thrive in the 21st century? You all are partially responsible for Maddie and me writing Humanize–we saw that implementing social media required some shifts in culture if it was going to work. But that discovery was accidental. Are you doing it on purpose now? Are you aware of how the way you do PR affects the culture in your organization? Heck, are you working with HR people on internal communications related to culture? Zappos’ Tony Hsieh said that brand is just a lagging indicator or culture. Does that fit with the way you do things, or do you see yourselves as totally in control of your organization’s brand?

Both IT and Marketing seem to be in the middle of revolutionary changes. Things are shaking up. And this is a unique time in history where we can take those changes and apply them more broadly to leadership and management. But not if you stay stuck in your departmental mindset. Are you up to the challenge?




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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jessica Holliday September 25, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Hmmmm. I do agree that for hiring in big orgs HR is often out of step and because they are the first contact the conversation often starts on the wrong foot. But I’m not sure all of the wrongs are always HR’s fault. If you’re growing quickly none of the overworked folks on the ground wants to do the often tedious and seemingly endless work of recruiting and interviewing but they should because it has a much bigger effect on your day-to-day than the HR person.


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