The HR Climate Change

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


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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.

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