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Culture, Strategy and HR, by Richard Nelson

February 2, 2010 - In Strategic Change and Organisational Effectiveness - No comments yet

Strategy, culture and the function of HR may appear to be different aspects of an organisation but potentially they can be intricately linked, especially if the HR function has real influence. It is important that different aspects of company culture are internally aligned so that stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and communities) experience a unified organisational character. An example of disunity is when the sales people demonstrate both a professional and caring approach to meet a customer’s requirements; but a possible long term relationship is put in jeopardy by overly casual and inefficient behaviour by customer service staff.

Also, it is equally important that the culture as a whole aligns itself with business strategy, if either is to be successful. A strategy that does not take the organization’s culture into account – both its outward, espoused culture and its underlying, informal culture – is likely to encounter substantial problems with implementation. You cannot effectively implement strategy if the culture is resistant to it, and it is difficult to design a realistic strategy that can be implemented unless you are aware of the reality of the organization’s culture.

In other words, it is critical to engage people in the pursuit of business excellence. An effective HR function that is focused on enabling business achievement, is critical to making sure that this happens.

What must pull culture, strategy and HR together and ensure that they all increase the success of the organization? Leadership is the principal answer. “If anyone is going to ‘manage’ the corporate culture, whether that means maintaining it, evolving it or changing it, that must be a unique function of the top leadership of a group.” (Edgar Schein) It is a leader’s responsibility to understand the company culture, to use HR effectively so that it enables managers to engage the organization’s people, and to create and deliver a realistic strategy that everyone in the organization will understand and support.

Leadership that will achieve all this is challenging, but essential to success. Both content (what is to be done) and delivery (how it is to be achieved) must be effective. “If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.” (Gilbert Amelio, President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp.)

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