Every organisation has a culture.  It started to develop even before the idea of the organisation was born and it has continued to shift and grow with every interaction both within and external to the organisation.  It is the DNA of the organisation, the driver of assumptions, the deliverer of ‘how we do things’ and the way in which people are aligned with the business strategy. Every member of the team, every supplier, every customer and even events in the wider world can influence the culture, turning it into a strong advocate for success or a toxic destroyer of the business.

Some organisations try to keep a tight control over their culture.  Particularly in the start up stage, entrepreneurs may have a very clear idea about what they hope to achieve and how they hope to do it.  At this stage, for example, when there are only a few people involved it is relatively easy to maintain the sort of freewheeling, innovative, collaborative organisation which the founders envisaged.  But as the organisation grows, as more people come on board and as the influence of the outside world starts to creep in it can be harder to keep that same culture, even should you want to. 

This is the next important lesson about culture.  Just as organisations change, just as the sentiment of customers and others change so too the culture of the organisation may need to change.  Nothing stays the same forever can be seen as a negative comment but it is also a reflection of reality, of the need for things to grow and develop as an alternative to stagnating and withering away. 

Recognising this need for change is the first important step in managing cultural development in the right way.  The problem for many organisations is that they pay no attention to their culture until it has changed from being a force for good within the organisation to being something which actually acts against progress.  When employee engagement starts to fall away, when reputation becomes toxic, when customers melt away and when sales vanish then there is generally something wrong with the culture.

Much has been written about the importance of leadership in defining culture but HR also bears a huge responsibility for monitoring and maintaining the culture on a day to day basis.  Recruitment, reorganisations, training, promotions, redundancies, sickness, procedures, targets, feedback; all these and more can significantly influence the culture and all of these sit strongly in the hands of HR. 

Over the next few months I’ll be running through some of these areas in more detail; exploring the ways in which HR can be the controlling hand on the cultural tiller.  There will be a fair amount of employee engagement included within the articles as engagement and culture are fairly strongly intertwined from a HR perspective but I’ll also stray away from areas which have traditionally been seen as the preserve of the HR team and explore how HR can also influence other areas of  the organisation. 

I’ll start next time with one of the most basic and yet most important functions of HR; the recruitment process.  Hiring for cultural fit is increasingly attracting attention but the way in which the entire process from scoping the job through advertising, recruiting and on to induction is managed can make the difference between a job sitter and en engaged employee who will enhance the organisational culture. 

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