Chief Cultural Officer? You Probably Already Have One – It’s Your CEO

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A great gift to me this season is the continuing rise in importance of organizational culture and culture management in companies.

Our own Winter 2012 SHRM/Globoforce survey of HR pros and company leaders showed that 90 percent of HR leaders cite culture management as an important or very important challenge to their organization.

In a recent blog post, Kyle Lagunas kindly pointed to the research as reason for creating the position of Culture Chief or Chief Culture Officer (including a case study of one person in such a role).

I do not subscribe to the idea of a culture chief, however. By definition, your culture is owned by every employee in your organization. Either passively or actively, every employee is creating, changing, flexing, adding to or taking away from your culture every day.

Leaders do play a role in directing that employee contribution, though. And they do so in three ways:

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  1. Providing a means for all employees – at every level – to actively contribute to the culture you want. It’s far better to proactively create and encourage the culture you want than to passively let a negative culture steamroll your organization. That’s why you must put your culture directly and actively in the hands of every employee. One of the fastest and, frankly, easiest ways to do that is through social, strategic recognition. Of course, there are factors you must include, such as defining very clearly the building blocks of your culture (your core values, mission, etc.) and then empowering and encouraging every employee to acknowledge, recognize and reward each other for living those values and contributing to the mission in the work they do every day.
  2. Gaining visibility into your cultureIt’s all well and good to put your culture in the hand s of your employees, but you lose infinite value if you have no way to measure, report and see – in real time – the effect of your culture. Tracking who is being recognized for what values in which areas of your organization – company-wide and all the way down to the individual – is absolutely necessary to proactively manage your culture. This is where some will chime in that a “Culture Chief” is needed to set this up and monitor appropriately. I disagree – a truly strategic employee recognition program has this functionality built in with easy mechanisms to report out to the individual, the manager, and the senior executive team.
  3. Crowing a culture chief – your CEOYes, you should have a culture chief in your organization – your CEO. No other person better sets the course of the organization with the gravitas, importance and respect to ensure everyone is in alignment with what the CEO expects to see. Yes, the CEO must receive regular reports on the status of the culture in action so he or she can intervene in outlying areas to reinforce the desired culture or to spread the knowledge of areas living the culture particularly well. But that responsibility is and always should be with the CEO.

Is managing your organization’s culture high on your priority list? What mechanisms do you have in place to proactively manage the culture and gain visibility into how it’s doing? Is your CEO actively leading your culture from the top?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.