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Hearts and minds: Culture management vs. human resources

Synopsys Editorial Team

Nov 21, 2016 / 4 min read

Two student teams from Harvard Business School doing project research for a Human Capital class recently met with me . During our conversation, one of the questions became vital to understanding the success of our organization: “While we clearly work together, what is the difference between Human Resources and Culture Management?”

At Synopsys, Culture Management (CM), though fully-aligned with Human Resources (HR) and the other management teams, is a distinct function that requires a unique skill set and has its own budget, resources and voice on the management team.

Our initial response to this question was that HR, at its core, focuses on the mindful management of the company’s relationship with its employees, while Culture Management focuses on the heartfelt aspects of the employees’ relationships with the company.

Compliance vs. consent

HR works within the realm of compliance, ensuring that a wide array of regulations are followed and the right things are being done for the benefit of the company and its employees.

CM works on consent – creating an environment that attracts new employees and helps ensure that they want to come to work each day. Employees who have freely “bought in” to a company’s mission and vision, work and internal social environment feel engaged and are more productive.

Recruiting vs. acceptance

Both HR and Culture have a focus on recruiting the best talent to enable the company to achieve its goals. HR concentrates on elements like position requirements, job postings, salaries, interviewing and offers. Their goal is to recruit the right people to put in front of the hiring managers and have them accept a position if offered.

The culture element is to provide an edge that helps the recruiting team attract the best talent. Nearly every candidate takes a tour of our headquarters during the hiring process. Both the feel of the office and buzz of activity give visitors the vibe of the place. What I do as VP of Culture is figure out how to make culture obvious and ubiquitous so candidates will feel that this is something they want to be part of.

Benefits vs. amenities

Benefits management is a key element of the Human Resources function and is a driving factor in employee relations through insurance, services, 401K, vacation and so on.

At Synopsys, my culture team is responsible for the part of benefits management we call amenities management. Amenities management has its own strategy and budget, and focuses on things delivered to the employees to delight and provide for their personal and social needs:  beer on tap, candy, fruit, Waffle Wednesday and Popcorn Fridays. We even custom built a Karaoke Machine, which we affectionately call a Quackaoke machine (it’s a duck thing).

Amenities also refers to physical space. Cultural focus on workspaces is critical to creating a positive and workable environment. Part of my role is to take the time to understand that Inside Sales operates best with an open floor plan with standing tables and music, while Customers Success needs low cubicles to both focus on customer calls and easily collaborate with peers. Engineering thrives in an environment with higher cubes for focused programming work and large restaurant-like booths in common areas for daily engineer collaboration sessions.

Messages vs. marketing

Communications is another critical component of both HR and CM, but the focus is different. Human Resources communicates with employees about their pay and benefits, individual performance management concerns, and even rewards and recognition. Regular communications keep things running smoothly for both employees and management.

CM communications are more promotional. For example, we have monitors in our common areas that show our CultureTV programming. This programming highlights announcements, sales wins, employee profiles, news and event photos. We recently worked with HR on a campaign to promote Open Enrollment for benefits. Rather than a transactional email about enrollment dates and deadlines, we collaborated to create an amusing video commercial for the CultureTV, featuring our Black Duck mascot in dire need of some health benefits. This was a great way to get HR’s message out in an engaging way.

Retention vs. engagement

HR works to retain employees by creating a mutual contract that benefits both the company and the employee. Monetary compensation, personal advancement, attractive benefits and other HR programs help to support this goal.

Culture supports retention by concentrating on creating programs that engage employees in the personal and social aspects of their work day:  monthly parties, holiday decorations, Quackaoke nights and friendly competitions. For example, for company meetings I work with other members of the management team to craft a theme-based employee experience that goes far beyond PowerPoints and logistics. My team also drives programs like recycling, food drives and community/charitable outreach, because employees want to be connected with an organization that cares about the things they care about.

Satisfaction vs. delight

Human Resources spend a good deal of time working with management to promote a sense of job satisfaction with employees. Together they strive to make employees feel appreciated, rewarded and heard by facilitating good group dynamics and management practices.

The culture team can build on this by concentrating on building a sense of delight. It is not the goal of the HR or Culture teams to simply make people happy. It isn’t really possible, and Black Duck won’t be the right fit for everyone, but to satisfy and then delight is a worthy goal. At Black Duck, Culture Management is responsible for figuring out how to regularly delight the employees with programs, events, entertainment and communication to ensure employees enjoy their association with the company every day.

Top line vs. bottom line

In the end, Human Resources and Culture Management are working towards the same goals: to attract and retain the best employees and help ensure that we have great talent working productively together to drive the company’s success.

In many organizations, the cultural aspects of human resource management are left to chance or neglected because HR is so busy trying to keep up with all the other responsibilities of their jobs. At Synopsys, we don’t leave these things to chance. By separating these functions, my culture team has the time and resources to concentrate on winning the hearts of employees, while HR can concentrate on the mindful management of the company’s relationship with its employees. Most boards and management teams agree that both these functions are important to the bottom line.

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