Culture Leadership

Why the future of HR needs to look quite different.

A Culture Manifesto writing workshop at Wholegrain Digital during December 2021


The role of HR is changing. This article explores the traditional function of HR in comparison to the modern demands on the role and takes a look at the rise in the “Head of Culture” role.

I argue that culture building efforts are essential for organisational success. I believe it’s a mistake to assume that your current HR person can simply expand their remit to include this responsibility because of a conflict of interest.

My suggestion is that the HR function should be split with part focusing on developing people and cultivating good culture, while part is attentive to the legal and administrative requirements. Both are essential yet many organisations are letting their workers down when insufficient attention is given to building a good culture.

The traditional v. modern demands of the HR function

Traditionally the HR department looks after the people of your organisation. This is an essential and important function yet many HR roles have remained overly administrative where I believe a more people orientated approach is needed. Tasked with overseeing the legalities of employment and focusing on things like pay, conflict resolution, disciplinary action, on and off-boarding, there is precious little time for the HR to support the people behind the roles and to cultivate a meaningful culture. 

Your people are your most precious resource and, unfortunately, come along with all their complex needs, desires and beliefs.

With the ‘Great Resignation’ well underway a traditional HR approach is failing.1 55% of workers ‘plan on looking for a new role within the next year’2 while the Guardian claims that 24% are planning a career change within the next six months.3 Employees are resigning due to a lack of appreciation and no career opportunities.4 

Alongside a lack of appreciation and minimal growth opportunities, burnout was the main reason cited in the 95% of respondents in a 2021 survey who said they were ‘thinking about quitting their job’.5

We are not caring for our workers well enough. It may sound overly dramatic but the connection between workplace stress and suicide are well documented if still an ‘invisible crisis’ that deserves more media attention.6

The rise in the the Head of Culture role

While this picture is shocking, I believe the future of workplace culture is positive. More organisations are taking seriously the need to support their teams and are hiring a Head of Culture (or something similar).

Sanctus reports that 83% of leaders predict that in order to perform best, companies need to hire a ‘Head of Employee Experience’ within the next two years.7 This is great news. An HBR article maintains that ‘the responsibility for managing [burnout] has shifted away from the individual and towards the organisation.’8

While we need a greater focus on people and culture it’s a mistake to simply lump this in with all the other responsibilities of your current HR person or team. There is a conflict of interest between the person who is attempting to coach you around your career progression, and who is also responsible for your efficient off-boarding when the time comes. There is also a lack of understanding in how to build good culture and support people and their complex needs.

Why a Head of Culture is essential for long-term organisational success.

The facilitation of culture change is a unique role inside your team

Having somebody inside your team whose sole focus is on culture and people means that they are not involved in the day to day business activities nor are they a manager or leader with other responsibilities. This gives your culture person a unique perspective and an opportunity to work closely with your team and yet maintain a different kind of relationship that is important for effective support and development. 

New models of adult growth and career development are complex 

It can take years to train as an effective professional coach and especially one who is proficient in team dynamics and culture change work. Our work at Treeka is based on the application of adult development theory to organisational development by both Jennifer Garvey Berger and Robert Kegan.9 We are convinced they’re the world’s greatest at this work; understanding the nuances and complexities of their work has taken years of study and application and it’s unfair to expect your current HR team to take this on.

It can’t be the leadership nor the HR department that does this work

Cultural support must work alongside the HR department yet it cannot be the same people doing this work. There may often be conflicts of interest and a lack of appropriate training or skills for successful delivery. Similarly it’s important that culture building responsibilities are not simply left up to traditional leadership. It’s key that leaders are able to sit ‘within the circle’ during facilitated sessions, especially if you’re attempting to build a more horizontally structured workplace. Often it’s leadership that benefits the most from 1-1 coaching which would be impossible were they overseeing the culture change efforts.


Something has to change. For us that means prioritising your people by hiring a ‘Head of Culture’.

This person could, for example, be accountable for designing and maintaining a rota of meaningful feedback conversations that will help ensure employees feel appreciated and recognised. They may also give training on how to become a more developmentally minded workplace which would enable greater internal career progression. Or perhaps it’s your rising talent or leadership that need some 1-1 coaching giving their role an appropriate level of stretch while offering any support needed.

As I’ve argued this person needs to be in addition to your current HR and leadership team. Something that we’ve seen work successfully at Wholegrain Digital is the splitting of the HR role between two part time people. Backed up by theory, well executed and sustained over the long-term culture change efforts are lasting and effective

Are you doing enough for the culture of your team? Has this article resonated and are you keen to support your employees more in 2022?
If you’d like to find out more about our success story at Wholegrain Digital or the culture change work we offer through Treeka please get in touch here. I offer a 20 mins ‘Culture Clinic’ as a free and easy way to connect with each other.


  2. Employment Hero – How to win over UK talent. 2022
  4.  Employment Hero – How to win over UK talent. 2022
  5.  Sanctus Stats  Pack: A Changing World. 2021
  7.  Sanctus Stats  Pack: A Changing World. 2021