Evolution of the Chief Culture Officer

More and more companies today are making culture a business imperative by adding a new leadership position to the senior management team, the CCO – Chief Culture Officer. Their role, to keep an eye on the company’s culture and ensure leaders ‘walk the talk’and live the changes that are needed to achieve its new strategic initiatives.

Corporate culture drives everything an organization does – it’s successes and its failures. The way leaders behave, communicate and make decisions has led to big mistakes, especially when common sense and morality go out the window.

What makes leading change and building an engaged, healthy, and productive workplace culture a challenge? It’s the conscious effort it takes to make values and behaviours tangible and meaningful to all stakeholders in the company. More and more companies are trying to do this, and why tools such as Cultural Values Assessments are gaining in popularity.

The importance of culture at the CEO level has been increasing since the recession. Senior leaders are recognizing the impact global pressures are having on the bottom line, and their role in creating dysfunctional culture and a disengaged workforce. With employee engagement figures declining around the world, leaders are trying to keep their corporate culture from deteriorating even more.

One way to prevent this is to hire a senior leader into the C-Suite whose job it is to champion the corporate culture. The best-known example of this approach is Google, which added “chief culture officer” to head of HR, Stacy Sullivan’s job title in 2006. She argues that, “If you infuse fun into the work environment, you will have more engaged employees, greater job satisfaction, increased productivity and a brighter place to be.”

It makes sense that Google would have a CCO, with their well-known culture of innovation and foosball at work. What about other industries? The financial industry have hired culture chiefs as well. One example is North Jersey Community Bank (NJCB), which recently appointed Maria Gendelman as its chief culture officer. CEO Frank Sorrentino encountered resistance from his board when he argued for the position, because the job description was tough to define. As a result of the new position, having a chief culture officer is a differentiator for the bank. Gendelman says. “Could every bank utilize a protector of the culture as part of the team?” she asks. “Absolutely.”

Most companies hire someone at the top to monitor culture if they’re expecting dramatic change, like a merger and acquisition. However, culture happens over time and needs to be managed on an on-going basis, because change in behaviour happens gradually.

An effective Chief Culture Officer needs to have the full support of top management with the CEO’s ear, and not grow too distant from the rank-and-file employees that live, breathe, and define a company’s culture with everything they do.

Are you investing in your culture, or do you have an unconscious default culture? Not many CEO’s would proudly stand up and declare they have an unconscious default culture. Why then is there such resistance to mapping, measuring and managing it, just like any other corporate resource? Because the soft stuff is the hard stuff. Senior management is more comfortable working with tangible plans, and balance sheets.

It takes a courageous leader to venture into the land of values, mindsets and behaviours, to build a people-centric organization that brings values, meaning and purpose into the workplace. Those who do, and hire a Chief Culture Office, discover the operational value of being aligned with their workforce. When the culture (how people behave and what they believe in) is in alignment with the business strategies, vision and mission, success follows. If it is out of alignment, staff will become disengaged, and it becomes very difficult to achieve new strategic initiatives.

No culture is all good or all bad, however, appointing a Chief Culture Officer is one way to keep an eye on the challenges a company faces when changing behaviour is a business imperative. What is great to see is companies are thinking about culture in a whole new light.


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Leadership Speaker Joanna Barclay (2)Leadership Speaker Joanna Barclay (2)Leadership Speaker Joanna Barclay (2)Contact Us Joanna BarclayJoanna Barclay, Speaker, Author, Leadership Consultant building high performing values-driven organizational culture.

With 30 years in business transformation working with organizations, Joanna’s passion lies in working with leaders, facilitating active participation in organizational change, developing resourceful teams and aligning strategic objectives. Her goal is to help organizations become high performing and values-driven, where people take ownership, build commitment and bridge communication gaps. As CEO of the Culture Leadership Group, she ensures successful transformation from concept through to implementation.



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