HR in the driver’s seat of cultural direction

by Human Capital02 May 2012

The plight of News Limited has been the object of intense scrutiny ever since the News of the World scandal broke in the UK last year.Knowing full well that the brand damage is affecting the Australian wing of the corporation, hopes have been invested in a program of cultural change led by a new director of people and culture, Janine Stewart.

The move has caught the eye of the HR industry, as for the first time the director of people and culture will report directly to the Australian chief executive of News Limited, Kim Williams. “News Limited has begun a top-to-bottom transformation of its business. One of our key aims is to be the employer of choice for the best and most ambitious media professionals in Australia. In order to do this we must manage and invest in our people, and carefully devise and implement a program of cultural change,” Williams said in a statement.

At the AiGroup and National Personnel Industrial Relations (PIR) Conference this week, Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson spoke about the watchdog’s plans and priorities moving forward. Wilson reminded delegates that when he last spoke at the conference, he appealed for employers to be alive to what’s going on in the organisation’s employee relations, and urged professionals to be careful about the risks of a corporately sanctioned ‘blind eye’, and highlighted the damage that can be done to an organisation’s reputation if a scandal breaks.

An example of this can be seen in the unfair dismissal claim currently being put to the federal court – a former Optus executive is suing the company for $14.5m for an internal culture of “bullying, suppression and victimisation” which she says led to her demise. Kerry Morrison, hired in August last year as head of sales service and marketing at the company's Digital Media subsidiary, was allegedly told in February by Optus Digital Media lead Austin Bryant that she would be fired due to “cultural fit and behaviours in the organisation”. Morrison has alleged that the culture was known to the carrier's HR director, and that anyone who challenged the division’s managing director was likely to be sacked. Optus has branded the executive’s claims as “unjustified” and a spokeswoman said the company would “vigorously defend” its position.

Cultural change starts with leadership

According to one CEO who has steered his organisation through a challenging cultural change process, communicating why the change process is needed should be the first priority for the leadership team. “People need to understand why it’s important, they need to understand the urgency behind it, their role in it, the organisation’s commitment to it, and also why it will be better for them in the future,” Peter Acheson from Peoplebank said. The number one downfall in any cultural change process is if the leadership team doesn’t show employees why the post-change culture will be better. “It must be remembered that what’s ‘better’for one employee could be very different for someone else,” he added.


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