Co-Authored by: Traci Saiz & Steve Tennessen

Identifying and understanding the various factors that influence culture is the first phase of revitalizing or reshaping it within an organization. Why do we need change? What are the success factors? What are reasonable expectations? What are the common pitfalls?

In the spring of 2016, TRANSEARCH hosted a 15-person roundtable for local Human Resource executives in Chicago. Serving as host and guest speaker was Audrey Williams-Lee, a 20-plus year HR leader who has led culture change initiatives with various organizations. She is currently Chief Human Resources Officer at Opportunity International and was previously an HR executive with Grainger and McDonald’s. Aiding as her co-host and moderator was Mike Morrow, a 20-plus year executive search consultant who has partnered with numerous clients hiring C-level officers amidst major culture change.

The topic: Discovering What Culture Change Actually Looks Like. The tone: for HR, by HR. The audience: HR leadership representing companies like Jacobs Engineering, McDonald’s, Molex, and more. Prior to the event, attendees had submitted “pain points” or “road blocks” which they had experienced within their own companies while trying to steward culture change. Two submissions were selected to be discussed by attendees as workshop questions, representing two different challenges and scenarios. Once the HR executives broke into three small groups, the dialogue got even more interesting.

Workshop Question #1: How do we honor the past while changing to be relevant and sustainable for the future? HR executives said:

  • “Meet with and rollout information to smaller subgroups. Test your messaging and incorporate feedback on a rolling basis.”
  • “Engage with the President & CEO to be a champion of culture change. He or she needs to share their story and perspective on it, and lead by example.”
  • “In addition to behaviors of culture change, when talking with employees be sure to focus on desired outcomes of culture change.”
  • “Reward the people who do it right. Strategize around what is the reward and how do you make these people visible. You have to identify, engage and support early adopters.”

Workshop Question #2: How do we ensure consistency and “stickiness” of culture change in a large organization? HR executives said:

  • “Mid-level managers is where change truly happens and takes root.”
  • “Utilize the change-oriented people within your organization. Those who are energized and passionate (and persuasive) will be more effective and happy with the challenge than those who feel like culture change was assigned to them.”
  • “Cross-pollinate your teams and departments. Not only does it help build new skills, it helps to create shared experiences and identity across different groups.”
  • “You have to link goals and deadlines with the expectations of engagement and follow through.”

During the active discussion altogether, HR executives commented:

  • “Culture change is not isolated to one industry or one type of businesses. Everybody undergoes it at some point, businesses large and small.”
  • “Change happens TO people, not around them. Help them understand their role and buy into what they do and can accomplish in that role.”
  • “Allow for failure. Avoid negativity and labels surrounding it.”
  • “Be willing to STOP doing certain things. Work smarter, not just harder.”

Attendees were happy to be walking away with new knowledge and at least one actionable insight for navigating culture change within their organizations. Plus, these HR executives had the opportunity to meet other leaders outside their typical sphere and compare notes. TRANSEARCH looks forward to facilitating future executive roundtables, where like-minded leaders can help positively shape the future of talent acquisition, employee retention, and high-performing teams.