Why Your CEO Must Also Be the Company’s Chief Culture Officer, Too


Whether your business is large or small, if you are the CEO, you are also the CCO — the Chief Cultural Officer.

Culture matters. It is what makes the difference between a thriving, profitable, and growing business and one that is lethargic and struggling.

The CCO who takes on the creating, shaping, and development of the company’s culture will see a highly productive and happy workforce who produce significant bottom line results.

3 elements to an organization’s culture

What defines a company’s culture? It includes three important elements:

  • Identity — The company’s history, logo, image, language, location, and the like;
  • Values & Principles — Beliefs, core values, and underlying principles;
  • Productive Energy — Is it a TGIF culture? Or is it a TGIM culture — one where the workforce is eager to get to work on Monday, take risks, go the extra mile, and collaborate to help the customer? Are they excited to be at work?

For 25 years, I have measured companies’ productive energy and have concluded that all things being equal, the company that has a productive energy level of 80 plus percent will outstrip the competition every time.

Company cultures don’t just “happen.” They reflect the personality, leadership style, values, vision, and preferences of the CEO and their senior leadership. There is a 1 to 1 correlation between the CEO’s beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes and how the workforce behaves.

Fulfilling the Role of CCO – Chief Culture Officer

To excel, it is the CEO’s job to be the Chief Cultural Officer, which is far more difficult than handling the financial, product/service, marketing, or customer ends of the business.

Here are some things the CEO can do to fulfill this role:

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  • Creating — The CCO decides what type of culture the organization is going to have—command and control, transactional, or collaborative? Will it value transparency? Will it be siloed, matrixed, or flat? Will everyone be engaged? What will the compensation system reward—individual or team performance? These are only some of the questions.
  • Shaping — The CCO then ensures that the workforce is engaged in understanding and embracing the culture. If the workforce owns the culture, they’ll take care of it. The worst kind of culture is one that emerges from benign neglect. Onboarding employees, focus groups, two- way communications, and regular engagement—all of these tools help shape workforce ownership of the culture.
  • Developing — Cultures are not static. It is the CCO’s job to stay on top of the evolution and development of the culture so that it stays true to the original principles and values.

You can’t delegate this

Finally, this is a job that can’t be delegated. It is exclusively the CEO’s role.

It’s a choice as well; ignore this role and just let things happen organically, and you get what you get.

Or, embrace the role, grow into it, and let the power of the culture work for the workforce and the business.

This post originally appeared on CultureUniversity.com.

Dr. Edward Marshall is a strategic consultant who works as a trusted adviser to senior leadership. He assesses business and organizational needs, and facilitates initiatives that result in high trust cultures, bottom line results, and sustainable growth. Dr. Marshall is the President of The Marshall Group, a past Senior Partner with the Center for Creative Leadership, and a founding faculty member at CultureUniversity.com. He is the author of two best-selling business books: Transforming the Way We Work: the Power of the Collaborative Workplace, and Building Trust at the Speed of Change.


2 Comments on “Why Your CEO Must Also Be the Company’s Chief Culture Officer, Too

  1. I think this is very true, but often stays undervalued in a lot of organisations. Since the recession, organisations often think that employees should be lucky to have a job and therefore cultural engagement is often left as a tick list exercise rather than ongoing development. I find organisational culture subject extremely fascinating and do strongly believe that culture which is shared, understood and believed in by employees, can have positive impact on company’s performance, not to mention employer brand reputation.

  2. Indre, that is so true. Yes, some companies have gone the route of the tick list. I think it’s because we’ve not made “culture” an accessible topic. It feels vague and touchy feely to a lot of people. The way it can be made practical and connected to the business strategy is to focus on the behavior of senior leadership teams, i.e. how they work together to achieve a specific measurable outcome–a high value business goal. You can, for example, create a collaborative governance system where they can see the direct impact of increased trust in their relationships to the speed with which they are able to make strategic decisions. There are case studies of this at companies like DuPont, Marriott, Microsoft, and others that can help leadership see the value of culture to their bottom line.
    Another way to bring home the value of culture is to focus on building ownership of an organization’s vision, mission, and strategy. People take care of what they own, and don’t wash rented cars.
    I think that once people can connect the dots between their own values and ways of working and their work relationships with the results a team or organization can achieve, they will appreciate the importance of culture.
    Your thoughts?

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