My early HR roles were in industrial relations. Or employee relations, as it came to be called. It was often said then, that you get the employee relations that you deserve; a phrase I always felt held much truth.
Today, employee relations is a term we use less and less. Instead we talk of engagement and of culture. Today, it would be more apt to say that you get the organisational culture that you deserve, the employee engagement that you deserve. There are of course always some external factors that you cannot control or influence, but in the main I believe that this is also true.
We have a blame culture
We have a culture of presenteeism
We have a bureaucratic culture
It is very hierarchical here
It’s not the sort of place that….
Culture does not stand alone. It is not owned by an individual. It is not a corporate vision, a mission statement, or a list of values. These things do not create a culture, or change a culture. Culture is history, stories, beliefs, conversations, anecdotes, language, leadership shadow. What is said and what is done. Culture is people.
I’ve often seen people, including senior leaders, bemoan their culture and blame their culture for their organisational ills, as if they are not part of it, standing outside of it, not responsible for any of it. If only our people would take some responsibility and make their own decisions they say, whilst asking to be kept abreast of everything, sign off everything, have the final approval. If only our managers would do their performance reviews and give their teams good feedback they say, when they haven’t bothered to do the same and cancel every 121.
HR can be guilty of this too. If only the managers, the exec team, the employee, the trade unions, would do this, that or the other. Then everything would be just fine. Like we have no part to play in the change we want to see.
If you are a leader, and you see something in your organisational culture that you want to improve or change, it starts with you. And if you don’t like what you see, it is always worth asking yourself, if you are part of the problem.
‘They’ are often at fault when this stuff doesn’t go according to plan (that’s assuming I/you/we/they had a plan). When confronted with ‘they’ I often find it tricky – and necessary – to establish just who ‘they’ are. Often, it’s us, or me, or you. We is sometimes another problem term. ‘We are going to do xyz’, often means ‘You are going to do xyz’. Clarity matters, at least most of the time.
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