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Culture Champion?

A recent article by Steve Browne in TLNT reported on an HR roundtable held in Cincinnati to discuss organizational culture. Reading the “report outs” led me to wonder how many of my higher ed HR colleagues could describe culture on their campus. Or, how many would say that they either lead or play a major role in fostering their institution’s culture. According to Browne’s report, there were six main reasons why HR does not lead culture:

We’re afraid to — Let’s be honest about this. HR is more comfortable managing systems than leading them. (NOTE: Remember that I’m in HR as well!) It’s a fact that HR is taught to be cautious and hesitant just in case a liability situation occurs. However, it is crippling as well because there are amazing HR talents waiting to burst past the fear to show companies what they can do.

Senior Management doesn’t allow it — Remember the myth? If we feel we always have to ask to do anything, the myth continues and becomes a reality. HR can model things to Senior Management (which they’re looking for) and see where things go.

HR isn’t representative of the company — Ouch! Why wouldn’t HR exemplify what the company represents? If this is happening, then HR needs to have a gut check and see how to fix this immediately. HR cannot think that it will ever be relevant if people see it as existing outside the culture.

HR isn’t visible — Sounds like a broken record, but it continues to be a factor in too many companies. Instead of this being brought up, HR needs to break through and change the perception. It’s on us.

We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid — HR people have, at times, become resigned to the labels and stereotypes of its position and role within organizations. You can’t break stereotypes unless you refuse to be one! Remember that.

We don’t want to — This isn’t on anyone else but HR. You have the opportunity to drive culture, but you have to want to do it. It isn’t a job factor, it’s an exciting chance to move an entire company forward. How cool is that?

I might add two more:

  • We aren’t sure what the culture really is (or want it to be)
  • We don’t know how to build and deploy it.

It would be interesting to hear from some of our colleagues who play a role as culture champions.

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  • In regard to understanding what campus culture and climate really is, here are a few recommended resources:

    1. Kuh, G., & Whitt, E. (1988). Culture defined and described. In The invisible tapestry: Culture in American colleges and universities (pp. 9-26). ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, DC: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

    2.Bauer, K (Ed.). (1998). Campus climate: Understanding the critical components of today’s colleges and universities. New Directions for Institutional Research No. 98. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    3. Tierney, W. (1988). Organizational culture in higher education: Defining the essentials. Journal of Higher Education, 59(1), 2-21.