Culture, brand & engagement – who is looking at the bigger picture?

When conducting interviews for the purpose/culture/brand/communications research we have referred to in our previous two blogs, we found evidence of new thinking and practices, and several interesting new initiatives around culture, engagement and the employer brand. New roles, teams, functions and, in certain cases, individuals driving new culture and engagement-related initiatives. Most, though not all of these, have originated within the HR/People function.

Though in many ways encouraging, the growth and accompanying fragmentation of HR into discrete areas such as Culture, Change, Transformation, Engagement and other more recent titles such as ‘Colleague Collaboration and Involvement’ has a downside. It can often lead to siloed thinking and programmes, more bureaucracy, more KPIs and less integration of the activities that so desperately need to be joined up. If they are seen by employees as lacking cohesion and coherence, the result is likely to be confusion and cynicism, the very opposite of what they are designed to achieve. 

“No-one is paid to look at the bigger picture, everyone is more focused on their immediate tasks and goals. Without big picture thinking nothing will change coherently.”

The Employee Engagement team, now quite commonplace in HR functions, is a good example of this phenomenon. Judging from our research, few of them have any influence over the levers that actually drive engagement. Their main responsibility seems to be the annual employee engagement survey. Some also had responsibility for the employee brand, but with a limited focus on areas such as recruitment and the on-boarding process. But the employer brand is much more than a recruitment brand, and needs to be considered and managed holistically – an example of the siloed thinking referred to above. So the title of the function is something of a misnomer and it is probably fair to say that many of these engagement teams have a role that simply generates more process and KPIs; leading to a form of ‘process creep’.

Some of our interviewees (32%) questioned whether these new roles have been created with a full analysis and understanding of the skill sets and expertise they require to deliver on their objectives. One HR director conceded that “traditionally HR is not built to take these things on.” This individual further observed that “HR is hollowed-out and the intellectual capacity has moved to the consultancies.”

The overall outcome is that these developments, with some exceptions, represent incremental bolt-ons, when what’s needed is something more profound and transformational: and that’s a more joined-up approach to purpose, culture, communications, the employee brand and the overall employee experience.

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