Magazine article HRMagazine

Driving Results through Culture

Magazine article HRMagazine

Driving Results through Culture

Article excerpt

Shortly after being hired to lead Berkshire Property Advisors' human resources function, I learned that Berkshire was planning to sell most of its 100 U.S. apartment communities. It was part of the company's plan to wind down its partnership with two major Wall Street firms starting in 2004. The sale of the communities was necessary to return the capital that our partners had invested. Berkshire would shrink to a third of its size in a year's time.

We knew that keeping key people was necessary to rebuild the company. We also knew that creating and maintaining an appropriate corporate culture was essential to both organizational effectiveness and employee satisfaction and motivation. If we succeeded, we were sure new capital would flow our way. If we didn't, Berkshire might not survive as we knew it.

Culture in this context is loosely defined as "how we do things around here." It's the collective behavior of managers and employees as it relates to producing business results. To "manage our managers," we had to be explicit about the behaviors we expected from them. This meant striking a balance between organizational objectives and employee needs; we knew we could not rely on generic advice from the latest article or business book.

Our objective was to define what Berkshire had to do in order to be successful while at the same time satisfying and motivating its employees. A team of senior executives gathered in 2003 to identify the behaviors that would allow us to achieve our goal.

The team developed an initial list of behaviors, which were then vetted by asking a representative sample of employees to choose the top items that they felt would positively affect effectiveness, satisfaction and motivation. Ultimately, we settled on 13 elements that we felt best defined the desired Berkshire culture and the management behaviors that would promote it.

We believe that this "starting with the end in mind" approach was instrumental to producing the results we achieved.

Managing Change

To effectively implement change, an organization must be seen as a system of interconnected components; singlefocus initiatives will not succeed. Many systems must be assessed to ensure congruence, consistency and support with the desired change; these include hiring, development, communications, policies and procedures, compensation and reward systems, and so on.

Once we had a list of desired behaviors in hand, the next step was to ensure that our employees understood the culture we were trying to create. We established baseline measurements to gauge how the company was doing in each area. To determine where to focus our attention, we developed a culture survey in 2003 that assessed how employees felt things were at that time as well as how they wanted them to be. This allowed us to measure and manage the gaps between ideal and actual behaviors.

We also developed a manager training class in 2008 that reviewed the connections we've found between great management behaviors and low turnover rates, better revenue and net operating income results. It was originally conducted in person in Berkshire's Atlanta office during new-hire orientation, but it is now offered online. "When new managers go through this training to learn the behaviors expected in managing Berkshire employees, they are surprised by the positive impact on revenue and other business results when employees are managed consistent with the behaviors we've identified as being important," says Human Resources Director Jenn Licciardi. "The facts get them offon the right foot!"

Choosing Actions

Collecting information on the current status of an organization's culture is only a first step. The key to successfully managing change lies in identifying which areas require attention and then determining the actions that will move the culture in the right direction.

Berkshire chose an approach that had both targeted and broad-based components. …

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