SunsetVip Sandhir, founder and CEO of employee engagement platform HighGround, believes that company culture should come from the top.

“When a company is established, or new leadership has come onboard, [culture] starts there,” Sandhir says.

Then, Sandhir says, it should be HR’s job to act as the facilitator that spreads the culture from the C-level to the employees in the trenches.

“[HR] should understand the culture, and they should understand the meaning behind the mission,” Sandhir explains. “It’s their job to make sure the culture is permeating throughout the organization.”

And while this all sounds well and good, Sandhir says that the creation and perpetuation of company culture rarely shakes out this way – often because company executives don’t see HR as part of the culture conversation.

In fact, despite the department’s name, HR is often viewed by executives as nothing more than an administrative function.

In other words: the C-suite leaves HR departments out of the culture conversation because it doesn’t think HR has much to do with people. In C-suite’s eyes, HR’s role is to handle things like compliance and qualifications – not people-focused initiatives.

And according to Sandhir, HR departments have, in part, brought this upon themselves.

Changing the HR Narrative

“One of the obstacles [HR] has had, quite frankly, is themselves,” Sandhir says, “They’ve not been viewed as people-centric. They’ve been more viewed as administrative.”

But how did HR get this reputation? Sandhir points to the fact that, in the past, HR departments usually only interacted directly with the C-suite when they needed new resources – especially software. Combine this with the fact that most HR software – until very recently – has been decidedly administrative in function, and it’s no wonder that many executives see HR folks as nothing more than administrators.

“When you think of an HR person coming to the table [to speak with the C-level], it’s usually been to ask for administrative software,” Sandhir says. “And at some point, the executives won’t see any value in adding more administrative tools.”

PathIf HR is going to break into the culture conversation and play its critical role in maintaining company culture, it needs to start by “changing the narrative and changing the dialogue around what it does,” Sandhir says.

“Employees are the No. 1 expense for most companies, generally,” Sandhir says. “When you think about it, the majority of your [company] spend is coming from people, but [HR] doesn’t always take a proactive approach to think about what it is going to do to support the investment in people. Instead, they’ll talk about a new tool that will help them consolidate resumes more effectively.”

If HR wants to be a part of the culture conversation, it needs to start worrying less about resume parsing and more about driving powerful people initiatives that bring about real business results.

The New Breed of HR Person

Sandhir says he’s already starting to see instances of this narrative shift in the form of “a new breed of HR person.” This “new breed” puts people first – see, for example, the rise of the “Chief People Officer” – and focuses more on things like employer branding and less on the administrative tasks that used to be HR’s core function.

“Three or four  years ago, I had never heard that phrase, ‘employer branding,’” Sandhir says. “People weren’t really focused there.”

Now, however, Sandhir sees it everywhere – and he takes it as a sign that HR is finally putting people first.

“I think, if you look forward, you’ll see a divide,” Sandhir predicts. “The administrative tasks will move toward finance, and the core function of HR will be around people.”

Why Does HR Need to Be Involved in Culture, Anyway?

Why is all of this a big deal? Why are we worried about HR’s role in culture? Why don’t we just let human resources stay administrative?

Because company culture matters in the hiring process, both in terms of attracting the best candidates and in making the smartest hiring decisions. That’s why employer branding is so important nowadays: Organizations have realized that showing off their cultures is a good way to entice the right kind of candidates to come their way.

“Companies want to bring that topic of engagement and culture front and center, and candidates want to hear about those things prior to joining to the company,” Sandhir says.

RoadIf culture is so important in hiring today, and HR departments play such significant roles in company hiring processes, then it follows that HR needs to be part of the culture conversation. That means being more than just the facilitators: It also means working with executives to shape the kind of culture that the company needs.

A strong culture can be the difference between building a great team and only being able to attract second-tier-at-best candidates.

“When a top candidate is faced with three competitive job offers, and you have one company focusing specifically on a culture recognizing people daily – that’s the company that candidate will choose,” Sandhir says.

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