Unlocking the value of HR to drive a change-ready culture

strategic change

Strategic HR Review is a bi-monthly academic journal from Emerald Publishing.

It is a leading publication for senior HR professionals.

Unlocking the value of HR to drive a change-ready culture” was published in the August 2017 Edition. It is an edited version of the HR Transformation Case Study in Chapter 34 of ‘The Change Catalyst’.

Article: Unlocking the value of HR to drive a change-ready culture (Strategic HR Review, August 2017 Edition. Vol. 16 Issue: 4, pp.171-176)

Author: Campbell Macpherson, Change & Strategy International Ltd, London.

Purpose: This paper aims to present a case study focused on developing a change-ready culture within a large organization.

Methodology/Approach: This paper is based on personal experiences gleaned while driving an organization-wide culture change program throughout a major financial advisory firm.

Findings: This paper details over a dozen key lessons learned while transforming the HR department from a fragmented, ineffective, reclusive and disrespected department into one that was competent, knowledgeable, enabling and a leader of change.

Originality/Value: Drawing on the real-world culture change intervention detailed here, including results and lessons learned, other organizations can apply similar approaches in their own organizations – hopefully to similar effect.

Extract of the article:

Culture is everything” declared Louis Gerstner when he was CEO of IBM.

He was half right. Execution is actually everything. It does not matter how innovative, clever or expensive your strategy may be – unless your organization is ready, willing and able to deliver it – the strategy will have been a complete waste of time.

Only your people can deliver your strategy. But of course, to do this, they will need an environment where they are encouraged to challenge the status quo and where they are allowed to fail and try again. If your people are to execute your strategy in this age of ever-increasing change, they will need a change-ready culture.
When I was asked to accomplish this for the UK’s largest financial advice network, the first place I started was HR.
Until that moment, my philosophy when it came to the ‘Human Remains’ department was to avoid it at all costs. Receiving a call from HR was akin to getting a surprise visit from the police: even if you are absolutely innocent of all possible wrong doing, for a fleeting instant you find yourself thinking that you must be guilty of something. As a management consultant, I found that HR rarely had the budget, the decision-making authority or even the influence that they professed to enjoy. As an employee, HR’s purpose in life seemed to be to make recruitment far more difficult that it needed to be, to pronounce edicts as a panicked reaction to the latest change in employment law or to launch an avalanche of last-minute job cuts as soon as the market hiccupped.
However, each one of my preconceptions was to be turned on its head the day I was offered and, even more surprisingly, accepted the job of HR Director. One day I was a worry-free management consultant, all care but no real responsibility; the next, I was HR Director of a 1,000-person subsidiary of a FTSE 250 company.
Half of the HR department thought that appointing a ‘business’ person to lead HR presented an exciting opportunity for them and the department as a whole; the other half regarded my appointment as the gravest possible insult to their profession and the most ridiculous decision the CEO had ever made. My wife tended to agree with the latter group.
What no one had told me was that HR is tough! It has to do all the horrible, dirty jobs that no one else throughout the rest of the business wants to do. It is responsible for the thankless and Herculean task of ‘right-sizing’ the organization – and instructed to do it quickly, cheaply, impossibly error-free and in a manner that does not result in any of the Directors attending an employment law tribunal. It is responsible for the impossible task of ensuring that the annual pay rise and bonus processes are fair and run smoothly.
Every time an employee leaves (mostly, as has been proven in countless surveys, because of the poor quality of their immediate manager), HR is expected to fill the vacancy in the blink of an eye and is blamed for any and every delay in the process. They have to promote diversity in the workplace, yet still make sure that all roles are filled with the best possible candidates. They have employees bursting into tears one day, and senior managers berating them for ‘not putting the company first’ the next. It is tough, thankless, underrated and underpaid.
I learnt more in those four years as HR Director than in almost any period of my career.