Member Pat Lashinsky Speaks: Hire Your First Chief Culture Officer

The Challenge:

The case at hand was brought by the CEO who had achieved much positive change in a short amount of time, but was still challenged by a counterproductive corporate culture that was damaging customer relationships. The CEO was looking for strategies to catalyze change.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?

If I were in your situation, I’d create a Chief Culture Officer position and charge that person with manifesting your desired corporate culture within a certain timeframe.

As a talented business leader, you’ve made ingenious maneuvers to maximize profit and minimize risk. Culture, however, is an attribute that can’t be easily evaluated analytically, and as such, CEOs often have trouble valuing it and knowing when and how to change it. Culture is clearly important to you. So, why not put someone squarely in charge of it? You have a head of sales that is responsible for revenue, and a head of marketing that is accountable for unlocking new customers. Create a new position or change the title and focus of your VP of Human Resources to a Chief Culture Officer, whose primary competency is to identify and build corporate culture that drives achievement of your larger business goals. Give this person a key seat at the table.

Cultural issues often do not permeate to the CEO because employees fear being seen as negative or disrespecting the chain of command. To maintain good culture, cultivate direct, honest and open relationships throughout your organization to learn quickly if dysfunction is afoot. Often CEOs succumb to the executive suite bubble whereby employees give rosy reports they believe a CEO wants to hear. More often than not, there is much more to the story. When you identify unwanted corporate culture traits, do not hesitate to take action. The problem will only metastasize, both downward and sideways on the organizational chart. Many CEOs are left wishing they had acted faster to neutralize bad actions. Act swiftly for the sake of company culture and your bottom line.