Heads, hearts and hands: how HR certification helps leaders change culture

Shaun Cameron CPHR, Learning and Development Manager, Empired Limited

Heads, hearts and hands: a certified HR professional on leadership development

Tech company Empired has been around since the dot-com days. But when Shaun Cameron CPHR joined around 18 months ago, the business had been making a number of acquisitions, the most recent being Intergen, a leading Microsoft partner based in New Zealand.

Merging businesses

It’s a tough process, merging different businesses, and there is a tendency for people to hang onto their previous company’s identity, says Shaun. The new acquisition also threw up another disparity: Intergen were doing really well at employee climate, scoring a whopping 27 points on the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys, compared to Empired that logged a -19 across the Australian business (-13 is the sector average). Naturally, Shaun wanted to understand why.

“The eNPS surveys bubble up to the surface the good and the bad about how people are feeling, at that point in time, at work. We don’t just ask them to score one question, we also ask for feedback on why they have given that score, and what the biggest improvement would be to them.”

Empired had received experiential information that separating eNPS scores out by location threw up different stories. “What we found were pockets of high performance here, pockets of low performance there. For example, the fact that no leadership team members are based in Melbourne meant there were perceived communication problems for the team there.”

The common thread through all the feedback was that leadership development was central to improving the organisational climate. For Shaun and his team it was a task ideally suited to become a capstone project for Shaun’s AHRI Practising Certification Project.

Clearly, the focus needed to be on empowering and enabling leadership behaviours and skills.

Empowering leaders to drive culture change

Firstly, Shaun's team needed to “do a bloody good job of getting all that feedback back to leaders and our people,” says Shaun. Questions around how much information should be shared had slowed down knowledge sharing in the past.

In action planning workshops across each state, the HR team gave out all the verbatim feedback that came from the survey, along with the recommendations.

It was a fairly confronting approach for some, everyone could read what their peers were saying about what it was like to work at Empired. “Some people have a good time at work and some people have a terrible time. Inconsistency isn’t great. But this wasn’t about finger-pointing at leaders – they’re human too. This was about how we work together to create a great place to work, it’s not just up to leaders, everyone has their role to play.”

Heads, hearts and hands

How you turn that around has become a lot simpler for him over time, says Shaun, who articulates it as Heads, Hearts and Hands.

“Heads: I know and understand the direction the organisation is heading and I know I’m on track. Heart: I know I’ve joined the right business that cares about my future here and wants to invest in my talent. Hands: I have challenging and interesting work to do that keeps me excited and motivated and I’m trusted to get on with it.”

Shaun says success often boils down to “little things done well over time”.

“For some it requires individual coaching to get over the hump of not taking criticism personally, of not being reactive, defensive or stuck in analysis paralysis – getting them to want more of the story so that we can all move forward.”

Measuring change

Measuring the success of new initiatives has shifted from a quarterly to a six-month pulse check to ensure they are shifting the dial on good leadership. “Everything we do has a big hook into turning this into a completely compelling organisation for our clients and our people. We want to show how we are adding value to the organisation from a people leadership aspect,” he says.

The nature of Shaun’s project is ongoing. Leadership development needs to be constantly monitored and reactivated, he says. “We’ve recently had interesting discussions around whether we are trying to tackle too much in one go.

“As an HR professional I’m not everyone’s manager or confidant by proxy. I try to convey the message that I am enabling leaders to look good so that their team members will think: ‘That feedback was really powerful’ or ‘My manager is really good’.

“It’s about bridging the gap between manager and employee to facilitate good conversations, effective communication and coaching. It’s true what they say: people don’t leave organisations, they leave managers.”