Image Credit

3 Mistakes HR Leaders Make Trying to Fix Corporate Culture

Toxic corporate cultures can be incredibly difficult to fix, despite the valiant efforts of HR leaders to create programs to improve morale and boost productivity.

You know that a positive workplace, with an innovative, collaborative, self-motivated and high performing team is essential to your company’s success. So why is it so hard to get employees to bring their best to work every day? What does it take for them to be happy on the job? How do you design HR programs that yield the desired effects?


Intuition vs Science

The hard truth is that many well-intentioned HR programs fail to fix corporate culture because those developing them don’t strike a balance between using their intuitions and using science. Please note the word balance: this is not about elevating science above intuition and hard-won experience or vice versa – in fact, that’s the whole point: both aspects must be given equal weight in your thinking to achieve a successful outcome.

Keeping that balance in mind, here are the three common mistakes that we see HR leaders and managers make when creating programs to address company culture challenges, and how to fix them.

  1. They don’t get to the heart of the business problem.
    Correctly identifying and framing the business problem that your culture change solution addresses is essential to achieving your desired outcomes. This means considering your company’s higher-level strategic goals, and drawing as straight a line as possible from those goals to the kind of culture that best enables them. Your culture change initiatives are unlikely to be successful – and probably aren’t worth doing – if they do not support your company’s overarching objectives.To get to the heart of the business problem, you must engage leadership in thoughtful, critical reflection about their strategy and its link to your culture solutions. For the leadership team, we recommend holding both individual and group meetings to achieve agreement and alignment.The main deliverable from these activities is a strong business case in favour of the culture you want to create – and the changes that are necessary to get there –  in terms that connects with leaders and with their strategic vision for the company. Defining and framing the business problem saves time, money and resources in the long run.
  2. They don’t delve into the scientific literature to fully understand the real drivers of good company culture.
    Evidence-based problem solving requires that you seek out all pertinent information that can help you design an ideal solution, and this means conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature relevant to your project. This is where you begin to test assumptions and ensure you avoid confirmation bias, which is the tendency to look only for information that confirms what you already believe. (People rarely, if ever, look for disconfirming information.) What the science will tell you is what works and what doesn’t, based on empirical evidence. That’s the kind of confidence you need to create the right programs to create the change you want.People also tend to skim the surface and base their decisions on readily available sources of information such as blogs, magazines and popular books. While these sources can be informative, it’s important that your search for empirical support also includes sources of the highest credibility, including scientific books and peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. The deliverables from your literature review are empirically supported frameworks and models that illuminate the nature of culture and culture change, provide support for a solution to your culture change problem, and contribute to your understanding and ease of implementation.
  3. They don’t constrain the problem and use evidence to test assumptions.
    To find a viable and focused solution, it’s also important to constrain the problem, that is to clarify how the problem actually arises in your organization and with your people. You do this by conducting applied research that includes employee input about their view on the current company culture, and their ideas about how things could be improved. This allows you to gather the evidence you need and further test your assumptions. It also allows you to uncover variables and leverage points unique to your organization that will lead you to design the best culture change solution.What does this look like in practice? One approach is to conduct a gap analysis using social scientific methods. To do this, use the framework you gleaned from your literature review to develop a set of research questions about your company’s culture that you want to answer. Then collect data that answers these questions using surveys, focus groups, interviews, and embedded observation methods like job shadowing or ethnography. Next, analyze the data and compare it against your model. The gap between what your framework predicts and what your evidence tells you is the gap you need to close with your solution.

Scientific HR for organizational success

Following the steps outlined above balances intuitions with scientific evidence – and forms the foundation of an approach that we at Dialectic call Scientific HR. In this way you’ll be better able to design the right solution for your unique challenges en route to creating a great corporate culture with productive, motivated and high performing team members.


Do you have a difficult organizational culture challenge to solve? Learn more about Dialectic’s Illuminate to Elevate methodology, which integrates science and the creative arts to help companies of all sizes break through barriers to new levels of growth and success, or get in touch to get started right away.

Try Learning Snippets FREE

See how easy it is to activate DEI, Leadership, and Collaboration soft skills in your organization.

Recent Posts

Try Learning Snippets FREE

See how easy it is to activate soft skills in your organization. Soft skills training on 3 key topics: DEI, Leadership, and Collaboration.