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Aligning Culture to Strategy: Deslyn Norris, Chief People Officer, Fitness Connections

Uncategorized May 20, 2019

Summary of Vlog Post by Emma Lokar, HR Intern

Aligning Culture to Strategy: Deslyn Norris, Chief People Officer, Fitness Connection

Growing Culture in a Growing Organization
With an education background in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an MBA, Deslyn has spent over twenty years in the HR space. Deslyn is incredibly passionate about the proactive side of HR such as: Leadership Development, Culture, Engagement, scaling and growing a team very quickly, and it all begins with a strong culture within a company. When Deslyn joined Top Golf there were 900 employees, and when she left there were 1,800 employees, she shares “through all of that growth the company is always focused on culture”.

The Fun vs. The Culture
In many organizations it is common for culture to be mistaken for perks. A lot of times you hear leaders talking about “How do you save company culture?”, and HR is viewed as the keeper of culture. Leaders are focusing on the perks such as skateboarding around the office, implementing wine bars and pantries, and dry-cleaning services. When leaders are doing this, they are not thinking about what a great culture is for their organization.

Instead start thinking about "How do you determine what culture you need to execute business strategy?" and start backwards from there. This can have a great long-term impact.

1- Why are you in the business?
2- What are you trying to accomplish as a business?
3- What are your goals?

Once you can answer those questions, you understand why you are  there to start with. That feeds into the kind of environment your organization needs to work in.

Disconnect Between Culture and the Board
When there is disconnect between culture and the Board it can create a confusing environment for employees. If the tone at the top is set as “fun” and this tone does not align to the culture you are trying to achieve it becomes frustrating for employees. In order to solve this, it is crucial to think about the people, “What are the challenges?” and “What needs to be solved in the business?”

That is how you tap into the culture you are trying to create. Focus on the entire company population and not just the C-Suite or just the employees. Deslyn shares an example: that if part of your culture is focusing on financial wellness for the employees within the company, but if you do not have the investment dollars for a strong system to support what you are trying to achieve. You are not aligning your goals to the culture you are striving for. 

Understanding the Business
Part of creating a strong culture is understanding the business that you are operating in. At times this can seem difficult when you are not functioning in the business such as, HR whose focus is around people. Deslyn advises spend time with your Business Partners, and those who work in the operations of the business.

Be curious and want to understand without having an agenda.

It is also important to understand what your business is doing for customers. The best way to learn this is to go on ride-alongs with customers and spend time with the customers. It is best to follow every step of that business consumer product and its life cycle.

Make sure you are touching everything that you can touch. That is how you truly immerse yourself into the entire business. 

The second step to creating a strong culture according to Deslyn is “How do I really implement great company culture with the entire employee lifecycle”. This is important because culture should be a part of every point in an employee's time with an organization. The first point of contact with culture is the new hire of an employee. As you hire employees it should not just be that they can see or understand the company culture, but in order to cultivate a great culture throughout the company new hires should fit in with the culture when they are hired.

The next part of culture throughout the lifecycle is taking a close look at your company’s processes and policies. These are key representations of the culture in the organization.

When culture is done right in the entire lifecycle it can really lead to better engagement and retention.

A good culture can yield better retention and employee engagement. The proof of engagement and retention is obvious within the company. It is also apparent in the Glassdoor review of a company and it is incredibly revealing. Deslyn shares that the image of a company becomes “ammunition to ask for more dollars towards culture or whatever you are trying to push with employee engagement”. It is essential as a leader and especially as a leader in HR you are ensuring you have people that will deliver value for the business strategies and company culture.

It is crucial to make sure a company has really robust training and development, and employees are always on the mark as far as delivering value.

New Leader, Change in Culture?
Many companies are faced with the fear of a change in culture when a new leader arrives in the organization as an HR leader you want your new leader to “shepherd the culture that you have cultivated”. The first thing you have to ask a new CEO is:

Are you a champion of company values or is the culture for your own agenda?

Priorities are things a CEO wants to accomplish. Deslyn explains, "you have to look at it in terms of what you are selling versus being a maintenance man for the company".

Last Advice
No matter what your role is in an organization you are impacting culture one way or another. It is not one department; everyone has a responsibility. If you want to be in that organization, you have to have an active role in embracing culture.

Be an active participant and protect your culture.

Whether you are a manager or an individual contributor you want to make sure that no matter what you are doing you are ultimately aligning it to the culture. As an organization you should be asking questions about your business and strategies, and how they fit into the desired culture. 


P.S.  If you are leading in challenging times, and crave the (virtual) company of a group of HR leaders, join us in the HR Circle Group each month for live video discussions to solve your most pressing issues and learn from other HR leaders like you. To learn more:



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