When I talk to leaders about my experiences in helping companies to become more intentional and systematic in their work on culture, I’m often asked, “What’s the single biggest factor that will make or break this initiative?” The answer is pretty easy: CEO sponsorship. Let me explain.
The Chief Cultural Officer
In most organizations, the CEO is the face of the organization. He/she is the top representative of the organization, the one who sets the example (good or bad) and the tone for what we’re really all about. Regardless of whatever messaging we want to create, the CEO’s behavior is almost always the best demonstration of the culture. He/she is the keeper of the flame, the one most responsible for seeing that the desired culture is communicated, promoted, reinforced, and celebrated. In fact, I often describe the CEO as the Chief Cultural Officer.
There’s another reason the CEO plays such a key role in this: he/she is typically the only one with the political weight to make sure we don’t compromise our culture for the sake of expediency. When that key manager wants to hire someone who’s not a good cultural fit because we’ve been shorthanded and really need a body, the CEO has to be the one to advocate for the culture. When we’re tempted to skip an effective integration because we’re so eager to get that new person started right away, the CEO has to insist on doing it the right way. If the CEO isn’t passionate about driving the culture, we can easily lose our way when times are hectic or we’re under stress.
With no disrespect meant toward HR professionals, culture is not as much an HR topic as it is a strategic and financial topic. If the HR person goes to the CEO and suggests a major culture initiative and the CEO is simply in “go along” mode, with no true personal investment, the initiative is likely to be put to the side when “real” business issues come to the fore. Only with CEO-sponsorship does it remain front and center.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the CEO has to do all the work. Quite to the contrary, HR often plays an important role in the day-to-day administration of culture initiatives like the Fundamentals System. By “sponsorship” I mean that the CEO is the biggest advocate, the supporter, the one who makes sure it stays a priority. Without that, the chance for long-term success is severely compromised.
If you’d like to explore this topic in greater depth, or to learn more about how to implement an effective culture initiative, just give us a call, shoot us an email, or consider joining us and other leaders for Culture Summit 2017.