The three-day GDS HR Summit just kicked off in Denver, but it is clear that culture change is on the minds of the more than 80 senior HR leaders in attendance.

In a roundtable discussion on change management moderated by analyst partner Brandon Hall Group, HR leaders talked about the importance of understanding culture when trying to bring about organizational change. The leaders also focused on a general aversion to risk, fueled by a culture of distrust that often impedes needed change in organizations. shutterstock_224217049

A couple of hours later at the evening keynote, Stevens Sainte-Rose, SVP and CHRO at Walgreens, said HR is undergoing a “climate change” that is producing a greater focus on culture. Sainte-Rose is helping to develop a “purpose-driven” culture at Walgreens: “Our purpose is to champion everyone’s right to be healthy and happy,” he said. This includes initiatives such as Red Nose Day, which raises money to fight kids’ poverty.

Sainte-Rose said we are seeing a shift from “purpose coming as a second thought to your business strategy. With this climate change, your business strategy will start with your purpose.”

What does that mean? It means articulating, demonstrating and then living a culture that goes beyond customer service and business growth. Sainte-Rose said it starts with a “non-negotiable set of values” that needs to be communicated throughout the organization, but most importantly must be demonstrated and championed by managers in order to gain the credibility with employees so they will embrace and live the purpose.

Walgreens has also done “a lot of listening” to employees, customers, partners, and suppliers about their perception of Walgreens in contrast to what Walgreens wants to become. “And it has been a humbling experience,” Sainte-Rose said. “As an HR person, some of it has been hard to hear.”

But however painful, it is important to listen to everyone who touches your organization. Among employees, it must be done frequently and in multiple ways – through social media, corporate advisory boards, blogs, listening sessions at stores – whatever means are available, Sainte-Rose said.

But none of the listening matters if you don’t take action. “The biggest way to make a difference to the culture of the organization is to get feedback, make the feedback public, and act on it,” Sainte-Rose said. The action does not need to be monumental, he said, but it has to be meaningful. That earns the credibility that motivates employees to live the purpose.

The summit continues May 10 and 11 with a series of keynotes and workshops. Brandon Hall Group will introduce its Employee Value Proposition framework and debut just-completed research that shows that corporate culture has a major impact on the perceived business value of performance management.

Claude Werder, VP/Research Operations and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


Claude Werder

Claude Werder oversees Brandon Hall Group's analyst team, new product development, corporate development, the HCM Excellence Conference 2015, publishing, and social media and marketing strategies for Brandon Hall Group. In that role, he manages Brandon Hall Group’s research priorities, Membership Program and Member Center, and Brandon Hall Group’s exclusive KnowledgeBases of research data and HCM solution providers, services and products.