How can HR successfully lead a culture change?

Overcoming resistance is a top challenge when managing change. One CHRO shares with HRD how she beats the odds

How can HR successfully lead a culture change?

How can HR successfully promote an organisation-wide culture change? HRD spoke with Joann P. Hizon, vice president (HR, admin & facilities) at SM Investments to get her insights.

Hizon stated that it’s crucial for HR to take a proactive role and lead the change – something she has done from day one at SM.

“When I came on board [eight years ago], I remember during the interview they said, ‘the company is levelling up which is why we’re hiring people with experience like you’,” Hizon said.

“At first making changes wasn’t easy because there was resistance, especially from the top, because it is quite a conservative company. It was difficult in the beginning and when I look at my journey, there was a lot of hand-wringing and frustrating moments.

“But looking back at the culture changes in SM, there’s a lot of ‘me’ that’s in those changes.”

The experienced leader shared that changes such as SM’s automation of HR processes reflects her personality, as she’s a big believer in accountability and responsible behaviour.

Upon joining the organisation, Hizon noticed that SM had a “love affair with paper” and sought out to transform the company.

“It just annoyed me,” she said. “I remembered one of the first few things that I was asked to sign was a form to reserve a meeting room.

“I thought it was insane. I said, ‘why is there even a form? I have a meeting. It implies that I need a meeting room.’

“We’ve automated almost everything at SM. Eight years going forward, everything from pre- to post-employment is automated. It’s something that we’ve totally embraced, and the employees love it.”

How to overcome resistance

Such drastic changes take time and effort – especially when you’re new to the organisation. Hizon shared one way to do it successfully, and it involves a few ‘spoonfuls of sugar’.

“Being new, the first thing I needed to do was to win over employees’ hearts and minds by giving them ‘candy,” she said.

SM’s HR team started with fun employee engagement activities like wearing funny hats at Halloween activities, as well as celebrating Earth Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day.

“After we did all the fun stuff, they started to trust me more,” she said. “After the ‘candy’, I could now give them ‘vegetables’ or something more substantial.”

That’s when the team proceeded to revamp SM’s talent processes such as their performance management system – or as she calls it, the ‘vegetables’. The team also started looking at outdated practices, minimising bureaucracy, and streamlining processes.

“That’s how we changed the culture. I started seeing changes just in my first year,” she said.

“HR has a major role in determining what the company culture should be, shaping it and making sure that it stays that way. But also changing it according to the times.”

Her advice on leaders looking to build an engaging company culture? Go back to the basics of HR.

“Build strong relationships with your employees because they will make your dreams of an engaged workforce a reality,” she said. “Love them and they’ll love you back.”

Catch Joann P Hizon at the upcoming National HR Summit Philippines on 24 April at Marriott Manila. Click here to register and book your tickets now:

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