Why the CEO Must Lead a Company’s Culture and Values

On a fairly regular basis, I blog about CEO wisdom I’ve read in the New York Times Corner Office column.

Victoria Ransom, chief executive of Wildfire, was featured in last Sunday’s column. Her entire interview is chock-full of excellent insight and advice around core values, company culture and talent management practices.

I’ve spotlighted three below:

1. Your leaders reflect you – choose wisely

As a company grows, the CEO cannot be everywhere at the same time. Leaders must carry the CEO’s message and passion deep into the organization — leaders who don’t hurt your culture.

You’re only as good as the leaders you have underneath you… You might think that because you’re projecting our values, then the rest of the company is experiencing the values. What you realize is that the direct supervisors become the most important influence on people in the company. Therefore, a big part of leading becomes your ability to pick and guide the right people…

I think the best way to undermine a company’s values is to put people in leadership positions who are not adhering to the values. Then it completely starts to fall flat until you take action and move those people out, and then everyone gets faith in the values again. It can be restored so quickly. You just see that people are happier.”

2. Be deliberate – don’t count on culture by osmosis

Your values displayed on a plaque on the wall do nothing to help your employees understand what those values mean in their everyday work. Determine your values, then make them real by encouraging all employees to notice and appreciate their colleagues for demonstrating those values.

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As we got bigger, we were expecting a lot of our people — that they could somehow just come in as new hires and through osmosis figure out what our values were. Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them? The values are here already, but let’s make it clear what they are, particularly because you want the new people who are also hiring to really know the values… Some companies’ values are really about what the company stands for. We took more of the approach of what we look for in our people.”

3. Evaluate, hire and fire based on your values

Your values should guide positive actions such as recognition as much as negative actions such as removing those employees who consistently demonstrate they cannot live by your core values. These employees rapidly become toxic to the organization and just one can destroy a culture.

Another reason was that we had to fire a few people because they didn’t live up to the values. If we’re going to be doing that, it’s really important to be clear about what the values are. I think that some of the biggest ways we showed that we lived up to our values were when we made tough decisions about people, especially when it was a high performer who somehow really violated our values, and we took action. I think it made employees feel like, ‘Yeah, this company actually puts its money where its mouth is.’ … We also wanted to put in more of a formal procedure for reviews, and if we’re going to review people, let’s be clear about the criteria when we consider whether they are living up to the company culture.”

How central are your values to your organization? Do your leaders reflect your CEO’s priorities?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


5 Comments on “Why the CEO Must Lead a Company’s Culture and Values

  1. Derek- appreciate your taking the time to write this important article. It’s important that the CEO check in with his team on a regular basis to ensure that the values are not forgotten. Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director, Trust Across America

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