How Does HR Facilitate a Cool Subculture When the Company Isn’t Cool?

How Does HR Facilitate a Cool Subculture When the Company Isn’t Cool?

Let’s face it, not all of us are down with the kids, in fact even the word cool isn’t cool anymore I don’t think. Sic?

In fact, most of us don’t have a clue what that even means these days.

For certain HR professionals, the word is etched in their corporate DNA – they live it, they breathe it, and they are likely pretty “cool” themselves. For many others, however, their culture may be described in many glowing terms, but cool isn’t one of them. It might not be a fit for their type of business or their industry. Their board wouldn’t dream of coming in without a tie, let alone in scruffy jeans. Their business sees itself as terribly grown up, and has no desire to be down with the kids whatsoever.

Yet, with the inexorable march of technology impacting on the operations of increasingly more businesses, the “cool kids” of the tech world (and other industries) are becoming ever more valuable additions to all sorts of more traditional employers.

Let’s consider a traditional (read stuffy) financial services business. They had been resisting the march of digitalisation until they could resist no more. Their leaders don’t understand it, and their people don’t have the skills to implement it. They have to parachute in an external team, people who are at the cutting edge of cool. They have to be, that is what they do.

However, this team soon realises that they don’t quite fit in.

Their floor and the rest of the office might as well be on different planets.

This is the challenge facing many HR departments at the moment. The first issue is that HR doesn’t always understand “cool” themselves. Therefore, a potential solution might have, to begin with HR. If HR doesn’t represent the people that are working within the organisation, then they have little chance of creating a suitable mix of cultures. Hiring a senior HR professional with relevant cultural experience will hugely aid the transition. Then, at least, the newbies will have someone who understands them.

Many HR departments are making these subtle but vital changes at the moment. Cool HR professionals are in demand.

Secondly, it is important to stress that there will always be a range of subcultures under the umbrella of the company culture. You have to create the conditions for every team to flourish – asking a programmer to come in wearing a suit and tie will not go down well. If there is an acceptance that such differences make the company stronger, then there will be more tolerance.

Thirdly (and this is the difficult bit), no culture is ever set in stone. If some parts of the “cool kid” culture seem to be more widely accepted, why shouldn’t it start a debate about the wider values of the organisation? There are plenty of “traditional” businesses out there who could do with this shot in the arm that is for sure. It would have a positive impact on the more creative departments such as Sales and Marketing, and would simultaneously attract a slightly different breed of employee, ready to take the business forward into a disruptive future. Subcultures can easily morph into cultures when the future is on their side.

Is your company experiencing this at the moment? Might it do so in the future?