The Critical Relationship Between HR and Company Culture

February 20, 2018

The relationship between HR and company culture is critical. So critical, in fact, that coming up with the proper analogy to drive the point home is challenging. How challenging? We might as well try to come up with the best analogy to explain how important love is in a marriage. Effective HR and company culture work together in so many ways that picking just one analogy is almost impossible.

So, we’re not going to try and pick one. Rather, here are five separate analogies that together explain the critical relationship between HR and company culture.

Communication: The Circulatory System

Let’s get physical. Just as blood vessels’ function within the circulatory system is to transport blood throughout the body, it is HR’s job to clearly communicate company culture on a continual basis. The importance of company culture cannot be missed by a single employee. So, from the beginning of the recruiting and onboarding stages to the very end of offboarding, HR should ensure that the entire company hears, understands, and eventually champions the flow of company culture.

At the core of the circulatory system, arteries and veins carry blood away from or towards the heart. In a similar vein (nailed it!), effective HR serves as that connector between the executive team and the rest of the company. When the executive team needs to clearly communicate the organization’s values to their employees, they should be able to trust HR to head these efforts.

And when, on the flip side, when employees need to give feedback to the executives—whether they’re an intern in the mailing room or longtime senior manager—HR should be there to ensure their voices are heard and respected. These less-heard voices bring more understanding to the current state of a culture, and you cannot know how to improve company culture unless your knowledge of it is deep and nuanced.

Protection: Knights Templar and the Holy Grail

According to legend, the Knights Templar found and protected the Holy Grail and other sacred relics—through combat when necessary. Likewise, HR should treat well-defined and authentic company culture as a revered thing, and be prepared to protect and preserve it at all costs. (OK, maybe not through actual combat, but hopefully you understand the point.)

Company culture is a big deal. HR professionals who get that take their own company culture very seriously and make sure to ward off anything that might compromise it. Whether it’s filtering out candidates who don’t fit the culture or counseling leadership against misaligned initiatives and programs, they are always on the lookout for culture threats. They ask themselves, “Does this fit our culture?” on a regular basis and are willing to make tough decisions—or have uncomfortable conversations—when the answer is “no.”

Cadence: Rhythm Section and the Beat

In a band, the rhythm section provides the underlying rhythm, or beat, for everybody else to follow. So, what’s the connection to HR? HR needs to “beat your culture drum” all the time. For culture to stick, it needs to be ever-present—consistent and predictable. HR should preach culture often and in rhythm with the natural flow of an organization.

There should never be a time when culture isn’t fresh on an organization’s mind. Employees should expect education on company values regularly and predictably. Not only do these instructions remind employees of those values and guide their behavior, but when done frequently enough, they enforce the idea that those values are to be taken seriously.

As the champion of culture, it’s on HR to keep track of when and how culture is promoted, and when there’s a lapse, they need to . . . (wait for it) . . . drop a beat to get everyone back on track. Sorry, that was bad; let’s move on.

Motivator: Cheerleader (and Athlete) and the Game

When employees successfully personify or enhance a company culture, they need to be recognized and celebrated for it. Thoughtful reward and recognition programs not only motivate employees to perform better and be more engaged, but they also reinforce cultural expectations. More than that, focusing recognition on behaviors that support your company’s culture helps create culture. There are few easier ways to dictate how a culture is formed.

HR professionals are in a unique position where they can both cheer on fellow employees and lead by example in their own individual work. When you consider how much HR exposure recruits and new employees get, it’s especially important that HR sets a good example for how employees should act. Beyond the first few days, employees’ experiences with HR should always reinforce the positive culture traits of an organization.

Supplier: Food Buyer and the Meal

A meal is only as good as the ingredients from which it’s made. That’s why food buyers make sure their organizations have the finest and freshest ingredients: to ensure the resulting meals are the very best they can be.

So it is with recruiting; smart recruiters look for people who fit in with their organization’s culture and add to it. And, at all costs necessary, they resist the temptation to hire recruits who aren’t culture fits—no matter how urgently they need the position filled or how talented the recruit is. Just as one inedible or disagreeable ingredient can compromise an entire meal, so can a single bad hire contaminate a company culture.

The right ingredients, however, can turn a meal into a transcendent culinary experience. By focusing on good culture fits—as opposed to small gaps in experience and skill—recruiters can identify hidden gems (future company leaders hiding in a pile of resumes) more frequently. To find these fine talent ingredients, HR needs to understand their culture in depth; they need to know what makes it great, what it lacks, and who will thrive within it.

Whether you identify as a knight, or a drummer, or even a blood vessel, what truly matters is that your HR efforts positively affect your own company culture. What analogies can you think of that fit? We’d love to hear what you came up with so please comment below or hit us up on social media.

Bryson Kearl

Bryson Kearl is a Copywriter for BambooHR. His role enables him to study HR's impact on organizations, and he is a diehard believer in the vital role HR plays in building company culture by making people the focus of all business efforts.