Want to Improve Engagement? Maybe You Need a Chief Culture Officer

Deep inside C-Suites around the world, leadership teams are struggling with the business-critical impact of employee engagement.

The emergence of a new role – the Chief Culture Officer – has appeared as one way in which companies are working to inspire a jovial corporate soul in spite of drearier economic times.

In Lead by Greatness, author David Lapin writes,

Although cultivating a great culture demands a lot of emotional investment, leadership wisdom, and a genuine care for people, it is a financially low-cost investment with a high economic return. This is why great leaders pay attention to it. An authentic culture, at the very soul of a business, is something competitors cannot imitate. Like soul, culture is intangible. Yet given a little inspiration, this intangible commodity can be converted into untold wealth.”

Matching personal values with the company

Companies such as Southwest Airlines, Google, and Zappos share a long history of fostering noteworthy cultures that laud the worth of the employee. E-commerce giant Zappos even created Zappos Insights to showcase the company’s culture and its workforce, including their Culture Elf, Culture Magician, and Culture Fireball to name a few.

When it comes to managing company culture, hiring a Chief Culture Officer doesn’t mean looking for an executive with years of circus experience. In fact, there’s no specific set of characteristics in a CCO that you wouldn’t find in any other C-level leader. Rather, look for candidates whose values match closely with those of the company.

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Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly admits he questioned his fit when he first started. Sitting in his car that first week on the job wearing Hawaiian shorts, buttoned-up Kelly thought that maybe someone was playing a trick on him. He was wrong. It was just Hawaiian shorts day in the office. Nearly 30 years later, Kelly is an integral figure in continuing this culture.

Not every company culture needs to be quite so laid back, however, to successfully manage their culture, companies should:

  • Determine what values are most important to the company. At Hogan, we like employees who have a high hedonism score on their assessment because we like to have fun.
  • Ensure the C-Suite shares most of the company values. It’s central for the C-Suite to be on the same page with the company, even if each one is in a different place on that page.
  • Figure out how to work through employees who may not fit. Zappos goes so far as to offer employees incentives to quit their jobs if it doesn’t work out.
  • Onboard new employees to help them assimilate into the culture. By introducing employees to the culture early, they are more likely to stay engaged and contribute.


7 Comments on “Want to Improve Engagement? Maybe You Need a Chief Culture Officer

  1. If your company hires a Chief Culture Officer you should feel far more secure in your job.  You now know that you won’t be the first person laid off in the next downturn . . . 

    1.  That is an unfortunate point of view Marc.  I’d imagine that organizations that hire a Chief Culture Officer care more about maintaining their talent and attracting highly skilled talent by encouraging an engaged and excited workforce.  These organizations tend to do better in tough economic times because they aren’t building their business model solely on price, but rather are building a reputation that stands for something in the industry.  

      1. That’s a very naive point of view, Guest. There’s nothing about attracting and maintaining an engaged and excited workforce that requires adding an extra headcount. Managers and executives should be accountable for doing this with the help of existing HR staff. And if you think that the entire organization wouldn’t roll their eyes when someone becomes a Chief Culture Officer, you might want to ask a few folks who bring in revenue (i.e. not staff roles) for the business what they think about the idea.

        The same logic was used for Chief Knowledge Officer many years ago and the last recession pretty much killed them off, didn’t it? At best a Chief Culture Officer culture officer is the n-th rebranding of HR. At worst, it’s $200K a year that the company could spend actually building their culture

  2. Absolutely agree! In the next years, will be necessary to develop the role of Chief Culture Offcier, if you want the company in the top

  3. For larger businesses and corporations, having a CCO sounds like an essential role. But to add to your tips, suggesting to engage employees via onboarding is very general. One way to actually engage current employees that I’ve found works very well is creating an employee referral program. Using this program, you’re getting your current employees involved in an essential function in your business: hiring. If you hire a candidate who was referred, they are already going to have a better experience with your business and likely be more engaged from day one.

  4.  We have learned a lot about culture from a company called New Creature. We noticed that culture drives this organization. You can “smell” it. It’s an encouraging story of how great culture produces great results.

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