Time and again, organizations invest time, energy and resources into ambitious cultural change initiatives, only for them to fall apart the moment they don’t have HR focusing their full attention on driving them.
Is it possible to get long-term cultural change down to a science? How do you benchmark success?
Eric Hutcherson, EVP & CHRO, NBA, joined HRD Live at the HRD Summit UK 2020 to discuss his session on creating lasting cultural change.
Eric Hutcherson is now Chief People & Inclusion Officer at Universal Music Group. When he spoke at HRD Summit UK 2020, he was CHRO at the National Basketball Association, where he led the NBA's Human Resources department, managing a team that drives the NBA's global workforce strategy built on a commitment to attracting, retaining, developing and engaging top talent for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League and NBA 2K League.
Michael: Hello, and welcome back to HRD live where I’m now joined by Eric Hutchison, EVP and CHRO of the NBA. Eric, how you doing?
Eric: Very good thanks, how are you?
Michael: I’m fine, thanks. You’ve just come straight off stage. How was it up there, what was the state of play, how did it go down?
Eric: It was great. We had a good 200 plus people in the room, we had a really good conversation about values and leadership and engagement and commitment and all those great things. It was really, really good.
Michael: Wow. Okay. I mean, that sounds like a huge amount in one session. 30 minutes. So, like, what was the general flavor there? What are you trying to tell the audience?
Eric: What we were talking about is how to have lasting culture change, and the real ingredients to make it happen. And some people think that cultural change is about telling people what to do; my proposition is that culture change is really about experiencing something different and giving people different sense of what it’s like to be there. And then suddenly, the culture changes over time. The other thing that we talked about was the fact that no one person can make change happen; it has to be what I call exponential impact. Every leader impacts a small group. And when that collective comes together, you have change
Michael: So, in an organization, say, where they’re just really struggling to make that change, and they just have no idea. How do you get that started? How do you make that exponential change?
Eric: Well, usually it’s a leader, right? I was talking to a group afterwards, and then they said, ‘we have a leader who is maybe a little bit more of an introvert’. So, they’re not the big booming voice that says, ‘this is north, everybody follow me. And what I was trying to explain is that there’s three different kinds of leadership. There’s leading from the front, yes: those of us that are that big booming voice, and we stand up front and we say, ‘this is north, follow me’, and everybody goes. There’s also the leader coach. Sometimes the best leaders sit side-by-side with their teammates, and just give them examples. There’s lots of NBA players who lead by example, they’re not big, boisterous voices, but they lead. And then there’s also what I call the guiding hand: sometimes there’s the quiet leader that’s in the background, just making things happen. People don’t even know they’re there sometimes. But suddenly, the door opens, and I have no idea why. That’s that leader that’s in the background, clearing things. So, you don’t have to be the big leader in order to make change happen. But you have to be as committed, right? And you need a leader with a commitment that they want the place to be different, and then to begin to act different. And then to get the groundswell. And before you know it, you have what I call organizational inertia, and things just start to move.
Michael: So, there’s all these different kinds of people. How do you tap into what’s great about those people? Is this a cultural change that needs to take place first?
Eric: Well, first, your perspective has to change because you have to actually believe that every single person has value. Right? And when you talk diversity and inclusion, oftentimes what we think is that we can just say it, and then suddenly you have to actually be it; you have to believe that every person in the place has their own value. And one of the things that I said on stage is ‘every one of us has greatness in us’. But not everybody deserves to actually have our greatness. So if you think about it, if you worked at an organization, and you said, ‘I’m proud of the company I work for, I’m proud of the people I work with, I’m proud of the work that I get to do and I’m pleased with the value that I give and get’, suddenly now you’re committed. And if every person in the place were saying yes to those four questions, the place will move on its own.
Michael: And lastly, Eric, for those who aren’t lucky enough to be here to enjoy the session, if you could give one tip to those who want to make this kind of change that we’re talking about but just don’t know how to get it going
Eric: Well, as the late great Kobe Bryant said, ‘just start, just start’. Sometimes the change just has to happen, because somebody decides they want it to, and they begin. And if each individual begins on their own, then we can sort of create the systemic change that we sometimes want to have. But organic, real change happens one individual at a time. So, what I would say is don’t think so much. Just start.