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Do you need a chief culture officer? Yes—your CEO.

By Derek Irvine

3 min read

Do you need a chief culture officer? Yes—your CEO.

By Derek Irvine

(This post originally appeared in OpenReq.)

During the last year or two, I’ve seen several articles and blog posts about companies creating “Chief Culture Officers” – a specific executive role dedicated solely to ensuring the company culture is what it needs to be for organization success. Not only do I believe this is unnecessary, it’s also inappropriate and even dangerous to delegate culture responsibilities to anyone but the CEO directly.

In Winning for a Culture of Recognition¸ my CEO, Eric Mosley, and I shared the top 10 tenets for creating culture of appreciation through strategic recognition. The number one tenet is “Tempo Starts at the Top.” People look to the CEO above all others to set the tone for organization – to set and live out the desired culture.

As to the details on why this is so, I can point you to no better resource than a recent article in Strategy + Business, “Culture and the Chief Executive.” Below are a few excerpts from the article highlighting three key elements for CEOs to lead their cultures:

1. Own the Responsibility of Culture Leader

“Recognizing the importance of culture in business is not the same thing as being an effective cultural chief executive. The CEO is the most visible leader in a company. His or her direct engagement in all facets of the company’s culture can make an enormous difference, not just in how people feel about the company, but in how they perform.”

“Be a living model of the culture you aspire to lead. People pay rapt attention to what the CEO does, not just what the CEO says. You can’t rely on communications, no matter how inspiring. You, and ideally a few other senior leaders, have to step out by behaving in new ways that both capitalize on elements in the current culture and demonstrate a key shift in cultural alignment.”

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2. Focus on the Behaviors Critical to Driving the Desired Culture

“As CEO, your role is to keep the ship on course and ahead of the competition. This requires generating regular behavioral reminders about the values, aspirations, and engagements that underlie your company’s success and reinforce its strategy.”

“To help people capitalize on the best aspects of your culture, you have to focus attention on the critical few behaviors that you believe matter most. These are a few positive sources of energy, pride, and interactions that, when nurtured and spread to scale, will improve company performance significantly. As simple as it sounds, this approach will not only accelerate the behavior change that matters most, but also evolve and align your culture more effectively than forcing a major and potentially disruptive culture change effort on a broadly diverse global organization. These actions are ideally small but repetitive and demonstrably significant.”

3) Never lose focus on the importance of your role leading the culture

“Your role as a cultural leader starts on Day One of your appointment as CEO. It will not end until the last day you hold that office. Indeed, your persistence in emphasizing the right cultural behavior will continue to be influential after you have left. Because cultures evolve in informal ways that are hard to track, they can easily degrade before many people are even aware something bad is happening. Chief executives in peak-performing companies almost never let this happen; they work hard to keep an eye on the critical few behaviors over time.”

Who leads the culture in your organization? Is your CEO a visible, demonstrable leader?

About the Author:

Derek is Vice President, Client Strategy & Consulting Services, at Globoforce, the world’s only provider of truly global, strategic employee recognition and reward programs. Their management team blogs regularly on Globoforce news, products, customers, and industry insights at the Globoforce Blog.

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Derek Irvine

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