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Shifting Corporate Culture – A CHRO’s Experience

May 28, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: CPHR Manitoba

As featured in the Spring 2018 issue of HRmatters


Authored by Shannon Leppky, former CHRO at Manitoba Public Insurance

Business and organizations are working hard to catch up and keep up in our world of disruption and globalization. In the quest to meet targets and organizational outcomes within our ever-changing environment, corporate culture has become a priority for CEOs as they recognize that the ‘right’ culture is required to achieve results.

Data supports this. The Conference Board of Canada CEO Challenge 2017 identified culture and talent as the top priority. A recent Google search on “corporate culture” produced 292,000,000 results. The topic is found throughout the research; Harvard Business Review, Bersin by Deloitte and others are writing about it as we seek to understand its significance and how we go about evolving it.

With the recognition that the ‘right’ culture is a requirement for business success, it provides the CHRO and Human Resources with the opportunity to be that strategic partner the research talks about. Knowledge of organizational development and human behaviour, talent management analytics and organizational change management position HR to not only contribute but to enable business results.

This is my story, a former CHRO, who was privileged to sponsor a corporate culture shift that was required to achieve ambitious corporate strategic goals. The journey that began in 2014 led to a significant increase in employee engagement and enablement in just 18 months and a significant shift in leader behaviours and customer service delivery.

The context: almost 2000 employees, many with long tenure, a business significantly impacted by technological change and a new President and CEO with ambitious strategic goals and a vision to do things differently. We determined that to achieve the desired results the culture would need to evolve to one of greater collaboration, accountability and innovation.

Below is a framework of some the critical components that contributed to our organizational culture shift and a few of the lessons learned along the way. I hope you find this helpful as you explore this complex and important business imperative.

Be clear on the why - I think it is important to say that the existing culture was not ‘bad’, it was not right for what the organization needed to do going forward. As a business identifies the need to shift corporate culture, it is important to identify ‘why’ and to communicate that clearly and often. How you talk about why you are evolving organizational culture is critical. Honoring the past and talking about the desired future will help bring people along the journey.

Take a systemic and strategic approach - Organizations are living systems. Business is complex. To evolve a culture - “what we do and how we do it” - requires systemic and strategic thinking. It requires a curiosity and a desire to understand the business vision, how the different parts of the organization contribute to achieving it and the individual and organizational behaviours required to enable it. As the CIO creates the technical infrastructure, the CHRO must create the people and cultural infrastructure and this requires a good understanding of the organization.

Understand the business priorities – It was very important to understand the future state vision. This required many conversations with executives and their leaders to gain an understanding of their business priorities and the major projects required to achieve them. The information we attained was critical as it provided insight into the skills, knowledge, behaviours, attitudes, organizational structure and roles that would be required for success. This required my team and I to partner with others outside of our division, to listen and to demonstrate how we could work together.

Write it down, validate and gain consensus - Our approach was strategic and data driven. We had two primary strategies – the Integrated Human Resource Strategy and the Culture and Engagement Strategy. As a divisional leadership team, we created a People Plan that had clear milestones and timelines. I created a visual, our HR House, which acted as a reminder of the what and the how. We talked to other parts of the business about these documents and continued to revise and refine as we identified what was effective and what was not. We strove to ‘do with’ and not to ‘do to’.

Use a data driven approach - We collected a lot of data at the beginning of the journey through interviews, surveys and focus groups. This data not only set the baseline and allowed us to measure change over time, it was critical input to the components of the strategy. Collecting data through a robust employee engagement and enablement survey provided us with baseline data so we knew where we were starting from. A commitment to survey again in 18 months told us that what we were doing was working.

Identify the internal skill sets that you already have and know when you need to reach out beyond your team - We had good talent in the organization and people who wanted to be change agents. We provided individuals with growth opportunities. We reconceptualized some roles and introduced an internal communications team into the organization. We recognized that we did not know everything that we needed to know. We looked externally and benefited from different vendors, some who helped us collect data, others who provided us with research and a methodology and those who partnered with us on key leadership development offerings. 

Leaders are key – Culture change requires strong executive sponsorship and a common understanding of leadership behaviours across all levels in the organization. The leadership development plan was key to our culture work. Evolving behaviours and competencies takes time and formal learning together with coaching were important actions that we took to support individual and team growth.

Keep your eye on the ball and play the long game – Shifting corporate culture takes time. It requires you to stay focused on the desired change, to be persistent, to celebrate wins and to re-group when required. Being persistent and championing the change when others are tired or are struggling to understand is an important role for HR leaders. It requires a thick skin, resilience and focus.

Research shows that it can takes years to shift corporate culture. After a mere 18 months, we experienced a 5% increase in engagement, a 3% increase in enablement, and an 18% increase in employees understanding how their role contributes to the corporate vision. Our strategy was working.

The results we achieved were because we took a strategic and systemic approach and our collaboration with the business. Leading this work with a talented team of human resource and organizational development professionals was one of my most challenging and rewarding professional experiences and one for which I am most grateful.

Shannon Leppky is the former CHRO at Manitoba Public Insurance. Her current focus is to use her deep experience in organization and culture change as she partners with others with a desire to further develop themselves as a professional and leader and with organizations who want to do change better. Shannon has a Master of Education, the executive management certificate from Queen’s University and is attaining her executive coaching accreditation through the College of Executive Coaching. Shannon can be reached at

Chartered Professionals in Human Resources Manitoba (CPHR Manitoba)
1810-275 Portage Avenue / Winnipeg, Manitoba / R3B 2B3
tel. 204.943.2836 / fax. 204.943.1109 / email.

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