Who Is Responsible for Cultivating Culture?

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Do you recognize the importance of culture yet struggle to make it a priority for your organization?  You are not alone. According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Human Capital Institute, the #1 challenge HR faces when leading culture initiatives is lack of support and buy-in from senior leaders.[i]  

We see this problem as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very notion that culture is HR’s responsibility ends up leading to the biggest challenge they face. While the Human Resources leader is considered the de facto owner of culture for the majority of organizations, research and experience show that this is a recipe for failure if – and when – a company’s culture needs to change.

According to a 2019 study conducted by HR Dive, when asked, “Which department is tasked with building, monitoring and enhancing company culture?” respondents overwhelming indicated that the HR department (52.05%) owns culture. 

Joint Ownership

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), ownership is a barrier that holds many organizations back from genuine and successful culture change.[ii] For culture to be a lever of success, it cannot be considered an HR issue.  Instead, everyone in the company needs to be responsible for cultivating the desired culture. 

A RACI Chart for Culture

Cultivating purposeful culture requires involvement and alignment across all parts and levels of an organization. We often use the idea of a RACI chart to illustrate this concept. Business leaders are ultimately accountable (A) for culture while everyone in the company is responsible (R) for playing a part.  

HR’s ideal role is that of consultant (C) to the business.  Every single person in the company needs to be involved (I).  You may have noticed that we’ve changed the I in RACI from “informed” to “involved”.  This is because we know that widespread, active involvement builds commitment and increases the odds of successful change. Simply being “informed,” or being told what to do, does not.

To achieve the desired culture, everyone must have a clear, consistent, common understanding of it — and everyone must work together in a deliberate and coordinated effort to cultivate it.”

– Denise Lee Yohn, Company Culture is Everyone’s Responsibility. Harvard Business Review (2021)

HR’s Role

The Human Resources team plays a vital role in partnering with leaders to plan and execute the culture journey. In general, when it comes to culture, HR needs to do less and facilitate more. We refer to HR’s role as the strategic orchestrator. 

True culture change means altering the way the organization lives and breathes. It shapes the way people make decisions, get their work done, what they prioritize, and how they interact with colleagues, clients, and customers. It is really only successful and powerful when business leaders see it as their responsibility and see HR as a resource for helping them achieve it.”

– SHRM, HR Can’t Change Company Culture by Itself

In addition to orchestrating action, HR also directly contributes to building and sustaining a culture via people process and systems. Culture change is most successful when recruiting and selection, training and development, performance management, and rewards and recognition all support and reinforce the desired culture.

Summary

Culture change is really only successful when business leaders see it as their responsibility and see HR as a partner for helping them succeed. Those organizations that approach culture work as partnership-based process create a decided advantage between themselves and the competition.


[i] Human Capital Institute Report, THE CULTURE-CENTRIC ORGANIZATION, July 2020

[ii] SHRM, HR Can’t Change Company Culture by Itself

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