Grayfeather Consulting








  • Should Human Resources manage the organisational culture?

    Charles Handy defined culture simply as the way we do things around here, but if you look at Edgar Schein’s definition it becomes clear how encompassing culture is in the organisation:

    Culture is a pattern of shared tacit assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. [1]

    But even though culture is so significant, in many organisations, no-one takes specific responsibility for managing culture. Someone in HR may have culture as part of their portfolio, but mostly they will only do a cultural survey from time to time and engage with external consultants when a change management effort is required.

    The topic is further compilated by discussions on who should “own” the culture and whether ownership is equal to management.

    The answer is that the leaders in an organisation should own the culture. As much as they are responsible for deciding the strategy and vision of the organisation, they need to decide the cultural direction of the organisation and lead changes to it.

    But leaders are not able to undertake the daily management of culture in an organisation because of their responsibilities. So, even though they play a critical role in deciding on the right direction for the culture and in establishing and leading the culture, someone else needs to take on the management of culture.

    Culture is predominantly about beliefs and behaviours and it is therefore aligned to fields of study of HR practitioners. Therefore, HR is in a good position to take responsibility for the management or governance of culture under the direction of the CEO.

    In many organisations, there is a recognition that culture should form part of HR’s responsibilities and HR departments are now often referred to as People and Culture even though there is very little focus on culture.

    HR has traditionally not had a strong understanding of organisational culture and many HR departments are ineffective in this sphere. This has led some experts to advise against HR being involved in managing culture.

    Culture does not change in a “one and done” event, nor is it something you can relegate to your Human Resources department. From long years of experience, we know that the leadership team must shoulder the responsibility of shifting culture.

    It is obvious that leadership should play a key role in cultural change, but someone needs to undertake the work associated with managing culture and we believe this responsibility sits with HR.

    In recent years, some organisations have appointed a Chief Culture Officer (CCO) and Forbes describes the role of the CCO in the following way:

    “Their job is to cultivate a strong culture, especially as business and employee needs cause the culture to evolve.”

    In 2006, Google hired Stacy Sullivan as Chief Culture Officer, and the C-Suite was changed forever. Her sole duty was to keep a watchful eye on culture and was revolutionary at the time. [4] Since Stacy’s appointment, increasingly more organisations are seeing value in appointing a CCO.

    Most CCOs do have a strong HR background, but some exposure to marketing and business operations is also valuable in the position. Usually appointing a CCO only happens when organisations have developed a sophisticated and mature understanding of the working and impact of culture.

    To get to this point, someone must take up the mantle and Human Resources is best placed to do so. However, this requires that HR develops the knowledge and skills to undertake this responsibility.

    [1] Schein, Edgar H. The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (J-B Warren Bennis Series) (p. 27). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

    [2] Connors, Roger. Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results (Kindle Locations 372-373). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



Book list


Over the years I have read so many business-­related books, but it was not always the pure business books that taught me about business. Current affairs books often give more valuable insight into the real world of work. Conspiracy of Fools, a book about the Enron scandal taught me about organisational politics, much more than any other business book. This is a list of my absolute favourites. Books that I have read again and again over the years and every time have gained new insight.


I am a big Tom Peters fan and I loved this book! Every idea in the book was challenging and many of them were years ahead of their time. In the book, Tom challenges bureaucratic organisations and societies that still try to apply old-school thinking to the modern world. He is on a mission to re-invent the modern organisation in an effort to empower their employees to achieve success.

Black Box Thinking

This is a phenomenal book dealing with performance in organisations and the direct link between ‘learning organisations’ and performance. He juxtaposes the performance of the Aviation and Healthcare industries, one of which has been an exemplary learner and as a result, many fewer fatalities have occurred. It may surprise you to know which industry is the better learner.

The World is Flat

I regard this book as my primer on Globalisation. It was only when I read this book that I developed a real perspective on the nature of economic change happening in the world and the rate of this change. Thomas lists ten ‘flatteners’ that are the driving forces for Globalisation 3.0. Some of these include uploading, outsourcing, insourcing and off shoring. All activities that I experienced during my career.

Insanely Simple

Ken Segall was the creative director at Apple and close associate of Steve Jobs. In this book he explains the obsession with simplicity that drove Apple’s products to achieve such iconic status. “To Steve Jobs, Simplicity wasn’t just a design principle. It was a religion and a weapon.” This book presents a valuable learning opportunity for all of us about how to move towards simplicity in our products, services and work in general.

The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline made a big impact on my career. Senge’s theory that in the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than the competition, convinced me early in my career that as an individual I too had to keep on learning. I am determined to develop an understanding of the five disciplines that make an organisation a true learning organisation – shared vision, mental models, team learning, personal mastery and systems thinking – a journey that continues to this day.

Too Big To Fail

Another book that exposes the shady dealings in the global financial markets is Too Big To Fail. This book is a riveting blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to the crash of Global Markets in 2008. It documents one of the most significant events in our lifetimes – the causes, effects and consequences.


Geraint Anderson left his job in the city after he wrote this book and no wonder, the book exposes the underbelly of the Financial Industry in the City of London in all its gory details. Geraint exposes the corrupt and immoral practices that were rife in London’s financial sector in the 90s. A must-read for any youngster thinking about a career in finances.

Conspiracy of Fools

The story of what really happened at Enron. If this was fiction, it would have been a best seller, because it is so well written and the story is so compelling. If you ever wondered how things go wrong in large organisations and how events like the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Barings Bank collapse and the Challenger shuttle explosion can happen in organisations that are large and supposedly well governed, you need to read this book. There are plenty of insights into the mechanics and politics of large corporates.

Does IT Matter

Nicholas Carr’s book questioned the competitive value of IT at a time that many technologies were becoming commoditised and it was such a prophetic read. Working on the edge of the IT industry over the years made me go back again and again to this book and every time more of what he said had become apparent in organisations. Ever since I have read his book, I have been aware of what truly differentiates a company and what it really justifies as a utility for modern organisations.

Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple

I read this book at the beginning of my career and it sparked a lifelong interest in workplace performance. John Sculley was recruited to replace Steve Jobs at Apple. This book tells the story of Apple’s initial rise and then the events that lead to Steve Jobs leaving the company. I was fascinated to learn how a genius like Steve Jobs ended up leaving his own company and why the company did not really do better under his replacement.