Whose Job is it to Manage Organizational Culture?

Does the CEO manage organizational culture? Do you? Does HR?

We were part of a panel discussion at the SIOP conference last week exploring this question. It’s a multi-layered topic because culture is the responsibility of every leader. Here are some of the questions we discussed:

  • Who owns organizational culture?  Leaders definitely “set the tone.” Whether it’s Sarbanes Oxley or an academic research paper, there is agreement that the shadow of a leader falls across an organization. The specific behaviors of a leader impact employees and shape behavior which over time creates culture. The alternative perspective is that everyone owns culture and no one person can own it. Culture is a shared experience where we all have a part to play.
  • Do we need a specific role such as a Chief Culture Officer? We explored the pros and cons of identifying someone who was responsible for culture. One member of our panel had the title of The Chief Talent and Culture Officer at Wikimedia Foundation. She shared that leadership saw the value of the culture and wanted someone who was the curator or keeper of their essence. On the flip side, if one person is named in the role of Culture Officer, that can create the perception within other leaders that it’s not their responsibility. One example that was cited is Deborah Marriott Harrison, the Company’s Global Officer, Marriott Culture and Business Councils. Because of her unique heritage as J.W. Marriott, Jr’s daughter, she is charged with promoting and protecting Marriott’s culture and legacy, one of its key competitive advantages.
  • What are the responsibilities of a Chief Culture Officer? It depends on the organization, the structure and the goals. However, we agreed that coordinating, stewarding and championing organizational culture management and change within the organization was an essential part of their role. In order to be effective, all leaders within an organization must remain responsible for creating a positive, thriving culture. You can’t outsource culture but assigning someone the role can reinforce the importance of culture.
  • Is there another way? We talked about assigning the responsibilities of culture to another Senior Executive and the use of Culture Champions. Much like change agents positioned throughout an organization, culture champions are used as links to reach individuals and represent the culture work within their team, function or location. They usually have other full time responsibilities, so to be successful, this strategy requires a central coordinator.

It seems like there are fads in C-Suite titles. Whether or not the idea of a Chief Culture Officer sticks, it doesn’t change the need for leadership to create and manage culture. Edgar Schein said, “if you do not manage culture, it manages you.”
Our final answer to this question is that everyone needs to remain vigilant and intentional in managing their culture. An accidental culture can create accidental success. Focused culture management creates focused, lasting bottom-line success.

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