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Redefining the Meaning of Culture

This article accompanies Inventing the Future of HR.

Thursday, April 1, 2010
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In the cold language of hard data that often determine business decisions, a warm and fuzzy concept such as culture might seem as difficult to grasp as a wisp of wind. Where is culture when key executives determine the efficiency of organization structure or the return on human capital investment?

According to Ryan Robinson, vice president of global functions of HR at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. and one of the early planners of the company's new HR Optimization Model, the concept of culture is an integral part of the model.

"It is absolutely a critical piece," he says. "But the problem was culture had such a number of understandings across companies. There were different interpretations of what was meant by culture."

At the time the HROM's foundation was being laid, the company was in the process of integrating the workforce from the 2008 acquisition of Electronic Data Systems. The additional 130,000 employees nearly doubled HP's total workforce.

Robinson says the HROM planners were faced not only with the challenge of defining the core processes of productivity, such as workforce planning, cost, return-on-investment and job architecture, but also the essence of culture.

"It was critical to [understand] what it is that EDS [employees] think about when they think about themselves, their culture, their norms," says Robinson. "Then, what is HP about? What are some of the norms and differences, and how do we bring that closer to where we want to go?"

Robinson says the answer to their questions emerged when they focused on engagement and, rather than focus on dissimilarities between corporate cultures, they defined expectations of a common HP culture in the future.

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"You know, here's where we think we want to be, here's where we want to continue to migrate the cultures," he says. So, under the HROM quadrant of Engagement, the team included total rewards, recognition and communications strategies -- all of which emphasize the shared corporate values and a common vision.

"We thought the more poignant point was, if we could get ... the teams aligned around being more engaged around their goals, around what we were trying to accomplish as a company," says Robinson, "that that had a more universal understanding around it."

See also:

HROM's Apps

To Build or Buy

Buying Workforce-Analytics Software

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