A challenging decade for People and Culture professionals

Posted in: Talent Development

What are we seeing?

Since even before the GFC of 2009, this really has been a challenging decade for People and Culture professionals. Their challenges have included:

  • A prolonged period of organisational stress with downsizing, continuing business caution, and a focus on cost containment and “survival” rather than on growth.
  • The shortened tenure of CEOs has brought change – especially when dissonance arises between the former culture, and the messages and behaviours of new leaders.
  • Increases in regulation, with growth in compliance measurement and bureaucracy

What are the consequences for people in organisations in these circumstances?

The slow burning threat of job loss can produce paralysis of action. It can also produce generalized anxiety, the perception of loss of control, and a negative bias in interpreting everyday events and information. Anxiety over a period of months and years is corrosive – especially of self-confidence and self-esteem.

At its worst this situation and these responses can damage relationships and trigger defensive and non-empathetic behaviors as leaders try to insulate themselves from the human consequences of change. As a result employment relationships have become more transactional and uncaring across a wide number of organisations.

The challenge for P&C leaders

With this preamble, it must seem strange to remind ourselves that the primary accountability of leaders of the People and Culture function is the attraction, and retention of talented people, and with creating the environment in which people want to contribute. For those managing to work on this imperative, – and push other distractions aside – it has pretty tough getting attention, air-space and funding in the last five or six years.

We know from culture surveys that great places to work are those in which there is an abundance of trust, pride, camaraderie, and a focus on caring for employees, caring for the environment and for the community. i

How would your organisation stack up today as a place in which to see these elements?

Effective responses

At the risk of being provocative, this is not a time for P&C people to be buried in policy formation, performance appraisals, systems and processes. This is a time for:

  • Gathering data, and establishing a mandate to work on what matters, and pushing back hard on administration and transactional activity
  • Moving out and engaging leaders: listening, and ensuring leaders in turn are close to their people and talking with them (not at them). Winning respect in the provision of advice and coaching on management practices
  • Setting up small face to face forums, with leaders able to discuss what is happening, to explain, and seek feedback (sometimes coaching leaders in how to do this!)
  • Looking to engage staff at all levels in supporting each other and in working collaboratively on solutions to the challenges presenting. Working to subvert silos and hierarchies.
  • Taking steps to drastically simplify reward programs, and simply suspend legacy activities which don’t address engagement, development, retention and culture.

These are times in which the best P&C leaders set out to win standing as trusted advisors working alongside line managers helping them work on the engagement of their people. These are times to be mindful of the human impact when change is needed, and to quietly take on and “call” behaviours and practices which work against your organisation being a great place to work. This is a time to stop being “busy” and to become more thoughtful about what your behavior and that of other leaders conveys through the organisation in this difficult decade.

i Great Place to Work is a culture survey organisation, and these are the key elements they identify in their website as the underpinnings of strong inclusive cultures.