How can human resources bring a better employee experience in the workplace through cultural change? Culture of change means any culture that enables organisations to better adapt to the economic and social shifts that affect them. In other words, becoming more agile – not as an end in itself, but to better prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. To achieve these goals, you need to transform human resources (HR), the key department in cultural change. The objective: to ensure that they can underpin and support, and even lead, the culture in order to sustain the development of employees and the financial performance of the organisation.
Thibault Beuken, Organisational Transformation Lead at Wemanity, during his mission in a Belgian bank as part of the agile transformation of their HR department, gave us his experience feedback.
1. HR: the backbone of the transformation
One of the questions at the heart of today’s HR issues is: how to transform the managerial culture in order to create more leaders who can serve their teams?
Thibault Beuken has been working with his client for almost six months to rethink their HR function paradigm. Such complexities require rethinking several aspects, from performance management (annual review, monitoring…) to career management and the way in which hierarchy is exercised, to make it more flexible and agile. For several years now, the Belgian bank has been working in an agile way for a whole part of its organisation (mainly in IT), well aware that the HR department is one of the key elements to success; not only as a transformed department, but above all as a facilitator, or even co-leader of organisational transformation.
Today, new questions are emerging: how can collaborative work be valued? How can teams emerge and not be reduced to the sum of their individuals? Which HR processes should be adapted? Where to start? What attitude should we adopt towards change: the architect who designs by letting others do the work, or the leader who transforms his department in order to set an example of what can be done?
Two things are certain:
- 1. Processes have a decisive influence on corporate culture (i.e. it is difficult to promote collaboration when the whole reward system values the individual and their individual performance). The structure makes the culture, not the other way around.
- 2. A lasting change is a desired one. A person cannot be forced to change their way of being if they don’t want to. Although change can be guided and accompanied by a coach, it must first and foremost come from those who are going to have to make the effort. Coaches are here for support, but the organisation must choose their battles. To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, “he who knows that he does not know, educate him, but he who does not know, run away from him”.
2. Bringing out a culture of change
On theory, Thibault Beuken’s approach is quite simple: “My job is to encourage the emergence of new behaviours within the organisation. First, it’s a question of understanding the company’s challenges by drawing up an inventory based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis. This is a key step that is sometimes neglected by some clients, who seek ready-made answers, almost independent of the context, upon hiring a consultant. However, the environment is too complex for someone to define a top/down applicable model.”
The first mission of a transforming strategist is to understand the culture and adapt to it. Once this step has been carried out, it is a matter of defining an ambition in the form of ORK (Objective Key Results) under the co-construction of a vision. Finally, we implement tailor-made support aimed at developing a new organisational model. This is where the hardest part begins: changing things, behaviour by behaviour. This involves a mix of training, coaching and focus group inspired by the work of Kurt Lewin, an American psychologist specialising in group dynamic.
“With Wemanity, we strive above all to make the customer an actor, put him in the driver’s seat, think, test and learn to fail as well. On a completely different scale, Hannah Arendt explained how evil can lie in the smallest things, especially in the way some people have to “lose in humanity” when they refuse to think…. This is the first real battle of the coach: forcing people to think!” Thibault Beuken explains.
3. Promoting feedback culture through HR
Being more collaborative includes feedback. Everyone always agrees that such principle is a respectable one. Practising feedback makes it possible to better understand the other person, promote a more collaborative approach, more people centric and customer-centric, and facilitate the implementation of data centric governance and better decision-making. However, managers are often more inclined to give feedback than to ask for it; such an habit needs to be changed!
The paradoxical situation is that while organisations are aware that it is by asking their users for feedback that they will understand them better and make better decisions to provide value, not all managers seem to have realised that this is also the case with teams. Or they understand it intellectually, but find it difficult to change their mindset.
“I feel a lot of empathy in this situation. I have been a manager in the past and I had to learn, and not just blissfully, to change in order to help my teams. Which is why I organise workshops on psychological safety, where I start by revealing some of my fears and doubts in the context of the organisation I’m supporting”, Thibault admitted.
“I also take the risk of asking for feedback on a regular basis, in groups and individually, especially when objectives are not achieved and/or the atmosphere is bad. This forces me to develop a more humble and empathetic posture. In short, rather than explaining theory to them, I do my best to illustrate behaviour through action”.
The aim of these workshops is to give value to those who dare to ask for feedback and to transform the feedback they receive into concrete and conscious actions to increase the organisation’s productivity, or more precisely, to improve it. In other words: give priority to quality over quantity, produce value for the customer rather than being busy, and work better but less.
4. Turning leaders into ambassadors to embody change
For this purpose, Thibault Beuken has developed a method: “I do my best to create an environment of trust where the employee can expose themselves to criticism (which is invariably induced by the request for feedback), or even understand its value to the point of proactively asking for it.”
Ultimately, the aim is to create a group of volunteers adept at feedback and who will act as a lever for change through all levels of the hierarchy. This method should be launched by impacting a few key people, as high up in the organisation as possible: HR directors, CTO, CIO, or, at best, the CEO, etc. The aim is to create a group of feedback volunteers who will act as a lever for change at all levels of the hierarchy.
Rather than paying consultants, leaders become ambassadors and embody change. This suggests that decision-makers are made aware of a holistic vision of the employee, i.e. that they support them throughout their employee journey, from their first contact with the company until they leave. In companies as elsewhere, change is above all a matter of individuals. It is therefore necessary to be able to demonstrate to employees what proposals can bring them in terms of personal gains: identification with the task and fulfilment at work, what Friedrich Engels calls “living work“.
To this end, Thibault Beuken has designed a system called “3 times 3”: for 3 weeks, employees commit to asking 3 questions to anyone they interact with. When a manager carries out this exercise, they do so mainly with regard to their teams.
The questions are as follows:
- how can I better assume my role?
- how can I help you do your job?
- how can I help the organisation better achieve its goals?
Once the weeks are over, the supported person debriefs the results obtained before defining one or more behavioural change objectives with their coach. It is then a matter of co-constructing winning strategies, measuring the results obtained and communicating them to the teams in order to promote confidence and psychological security.
5. Making top management responsible
Change must come from top management, otherwise change in behaviours will be deemed difficult.
If leaders are convinced by the idea, but are not willing to adopt the system, the message becomes almost schizophrenic. It’s an approach that can work, but it’s a very different paradigm from the one we want to see emerge.
“This may be a mistaken belief, but I can hardly imagine a service company in the 19th century with leaders who do not set an example and yet manage to take knowledge workers, engineers, creative and educated people with them on board who are easily employable in the market on a permanent basis”, Thibault Beuken specified.
Reaching the tipping point isn’t possible without top management, which occurs when a critical mass of employees (innovators and early adopters) adhere to the approach and spread it through porosity. This part is crucial as it is the point of autonomy for the client company.
“For me, as much as for the internal sponsor, autonomy is synonymous with victory. This is the second strategic battle. To paraphrase Nietzsche, my mission is to be the master who learns to do without a master. My objective is to participate in the construction of empowered and accountable people,” Thibault explains.
Only once the tipping point is reached that it will be possible for the company to build an adaptive and responsive culture to the changing needs of their employees. The challenge is to create a culture that is stable in its change to enable it to address changing needs quickly and effectively. Not another culture change yet (a shift within the paradigm), but the emergence of a culture of change (a paradigm shift).
6. Becoming a “corporate therapist”: getting managers to question themselves
For Thibault Beuken, organisations don’t require change: it is the people in the organisations that need to. And denial, a defensive mode where you refuse reality and apprehend it as such, is part of the game.
For this reason, the coach thinks of himself, among other things, as a “company therapist.”
“I am here to be the guardian not of a specific culture, but of the implementation of an adaptive culture – the final one that will allow a CEO to point a direction and the employees to achieve it. In the case of an HR department, this means providing more values to the organisation’s internal customers and improving the people experience”, underlines Thibault Beuken.
In order to bring all this out, we must ask managers to question themselves to become role models. This implies revealing certain vulnerabilities, breaking the myth of the alpha male… Reversing the trend, favouring craftsmanship over scientific management, intrapreneurship over controlling people and KPI’s, soft skills over hard skills… Participating in the triumph of the liberation of life… while alive.
As such, the role of the leader is paramount. Leaders must have a vision, dare to be vulnerable, and have a “positive emotional account” towards their employees. They must be able to put their ego at the service of a project bigger than them while gathering expert people to understand and embark responsibly. “There is something of Ricardo and Marx in them, as they all have the intuition that when the means of production are the same for everyone, the real source of added value is human capital, their work force and creativity. Efficient managers work on group dynamics and allow collective intelligence to emerge,” says Thibault Beuken.
In that sense, the coach calls for a third Copernican revolution, ‘the Copernican revolution of management’, which supposes a new awareness: at the centre of any organisation, neither client nor profit, but employees. His advice to all those who wish to question themselves, especially managers, is to try to answer this question: “how do you fire people in a way that they refer to you as their best friend and their best manager?”6.