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Who’s Responsible for Creating a Positive Organizational Culture?

This was a question that was recently asked and debated in a LinkedIn group that I belong to, with the originator asking if it was the Executive or Human Resources that was responsible. It made me think that the individual (who is in HR) was told that it was their responsibility. And it made me wonder: how many organizations are out there that feel that the happiness of their employees is the responsibility of HR, and are pointing fingers when morale is low and attrition high?

Culture is an outcome. It is something that grows over time, as a result of ongoing behaviors that the company endorses. And that endorsement comes from organizational leaders who ultimately determine which behaviors are tolerated and/or encouraged, and which are not.

I’ll give you an example. Say an organization promotes its commitment to work-life balance, and has a program that outlines how employees can work from home, job share, take advantage of flex time, and so forth. But the reality is much different: managers schedule important meetings early mornings or late in the day; show disapproval, through facial expressions/comments/body language, of flexible hours when employees try to leave to attend a parent-teacher conference; turn down requests to job-share; and appear to babysit their employees in terms of the hours they are working. To boot, those who tend to receive promotions are those who seem to pretty much live at the office.

The official stance might be that the company supports work-life balance, but what they value and endorse is very different. Often those in leadership positions miss the mark on modeling the behavior they wish to see in their teams, or aren’t aware of the impact some activities - like scheduling meetings outside of core working hours - might have on others. This is where HR plays a critical, strategic role in recognizing the impact of behaviors and in counseling leaders on the potential risks of not changing.

Culture is an outcome of the company’s values, which come to life via everyday behaviors and activities. When individuals are allowed to act in a way that is contrary to what the company says it stands for, then it has to be addressed through communication, training, and if needed, corrective measures.

So, who is responsible for creating a positive organizational culture? It’s everyone. It’s the front line employee who recognizes and reports harassment of another colleague, and it’s leadership who follows up appropriately on the report; it’s the manager who advocates for their team members when ‘upper management’ is quashing a request that should be supported; and it’s the executive that continuously walks the talk, and ensures that employees are treated fairly.

To drive positive organizational culture, a company needs to live its values, everyday. We should all be triple checking that our actions align with our words.


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