Researcher and HR strategist Stan Slap
believes that there is one single factor differentiating the best employer in the world from the worst: the ability to align employee culture with customer culture.
And for good reason: when these forces are disjointed, all operations within an enterprise will suffer.
“Your customers are generally employees somewhere too, so they’re part of an overall general employee culture,” he explained at the HR Leaders Summit in Toronto. “They will decide to protect or reject your company based on how they perceive the way that your company treats people like them.”
In order to achieve harmony between the two, Slap says that it’s essential for HR managers to understand the origins of culture as an entity, as well as the role it plays in the contemporary workforce.
In particular, he draws upon anthropologist Margaret Mead’s observations of Samoan life to demonstrate the power of communication in forming cohesive bonds and establishing order. While the jungle tribes initially appeared to be a lawless society, Mead eventually discovered that a designated “chief storytelling officer” actually helped coordinate rules and procedures through oral tradition.
Similarly, modern day employees also use storytelling to cope with the struggles inherent in the working world.
“Your employees have a culture, it’s all abouttheir shared beliefs around the rules of survival and emotional prosperity,” Slap said. “They develop an information gathering system to ensure their own survival – not the company’s survival, not your survival, but their own.”
He contends that employees will devote themselves to HR initiatives when their rules of survival and emotional prosperity are in conjunction with those of the organization.
To do so, he recommends the following four strategies:
- Go to the power source – when introducing a new program or initiative, inform employees about the change and explain what happened to the former plan and why the decision was made to modify it
- Earn trust a little bit a time – an effective HR strategy is typically pretty fluid, so adjustments tend to be inevitable. When changes need to be made, managers should discuss them with workers and say, “In the next 60 days, here are two things that will definitely happen in the name of this new plan and two things that will definitely never happen in the name of this new plan.” After those have been materialized, HR can then return to employees and negotiate for more trust
- Don’t mistake management for leadership – management controls behaviour, whereas leadership should impact the willingness for workers to engage skills. A good leader will leverage emotional commitment to inspire employees and bring personal values in line with company values
- Don’t’ blame the culture for how it’s treated – while it is sometimes easy to become frustrated when a corporate culture doesn’t respond to HR goals, managers need to remember that workers only want the security that comes with survival and emotional prosperity. This is why it’s paramount to remind them, especially in times of change, “Yes, this is new, different and unknown, but here’s who we are, here’s who we have always been and here’s who we will always be.”
Once HR executives can champion these practices, they will likely be invited by the rest of the C-Suite to help guide the future direction of the entire company.
“Companies are readily betting their life on the ability to roll our new strategies ahead of budget and ahead of their competitors,” Slam said. “But you can set up a basecamp on mount delusional if you think any strategy or performance goal will be successful without the hard core support of your employees.”
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