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posted: 1/22/2020 1:00 AM

Make sure your culture is an asset in 2020

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It's a new year and the beginning of a new decade. For many, January prompts an annual ritual of reflecting on the past and planning for the future. By the time this article is published, some people will have already failed to live up to their personal resolutions. Many others will be working hard at trying new things, changing old habits, and sticking to their commitments. Organizations also make resolutions, but they usually come in the form of strategic plans, annual goals, performance targets or special initiatives. In 2020, how many of yours involve corporate culture?

This may seem to some like an odd question. For those who believe that an organization's culture can't be created, changed or controlled, having resolutions, goals or plans related to it might seem pointless. However, if you acknowledge the importance of culture in attracting and retaining talent, then being intentional about supporting and improving your culture makes perfect sense. Being willing to take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses is a critical first step in determining where your culture could use some attention. For some companies, this discovery process is scheduled periodically through processes such as employee engagement surveys, performance discussions or stay interviews. Once the leadership team learns of cultural concerns, it has the opportunity to address the issues and determine if course corrections need to be made. As with all resolutions, the magnitude will vary and could range from improved employee communication efforts or handbook policy revisions to major organizational restructuring or new talent acquisition strategies.

Unfortunately, not all organizations are pro-active in their efforts to create or nurture their culture. Sometimes, it takes an unexpected and often unpleasant wake-up call to shake them up and cause an increased focus on culture. In the past few years, there have been countless examples of companies who faced crises involving sexual harassment, financial fraud, gender discrimination, safety violations or unacceptable customer service. In most cases, the back story revealed internal cultural issues that allowed the inappropriate behaviors and decisions to occur. And, the aftermath of these public scandals most certainly caused further erosion of already toxic or troubled cultures causing resident talent to flee to healthier organizations and potential applicants to stay away.

Organizations that have encountered a cultural crisis can achieve financial health, regain customers, attract new employees, and improve their public reputation, but it takes significant time, committed resources and a hefty investment. When a company's culture has become more of a liability than an asset, it is an uphill climb that can take years to repair. Without a clear strategy and vigilant attention to cultural improvements, it simply won't happen. Which is why it is so imperative to treat your culture like the asset it is. Never neglect it or allow it to be an afterthought.

If you have not yet made 2020s cultural resolutions, now is the time. Here are a few ideas to jump start your efforts. Make sure your leadership team is on board. Does your management team and/or board understand the impact that culture has on your business outcomes? If not, find ways to illustrate the connection. Next, make sure that HR isn't held solely responsible for culture. While HR plays an important role in serving as cultural stewards, HR can't do it without the support of top executives in alignment with managers and supervisors. Additionally, determine how you are going to regularly assess your culture and then do it. Again, this can't be done in a vacuum without consideration for your overall business strategy or be delegated to one or two people. An asset as important as your corporate culture deserves to be given the respect and resources it warrants. I guarantee, your organization and its most valuable resource, your employees, will all reap the benefits in 2020 and beyond.

• Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, GPHR, SHRM-SCP, is president & CEO of Chicago-based HR Source