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The Emergence of the Culture Chief

Our latest post actually isn't from us! We're delighted to feature a guest post from Jennifer King, an HR analyst with Software Advice. Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. She writes:

Guest Blogger - Jennifer

In early 2012 the Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce released an employee recognition survey, which reported that 90% of the 770 HR leaders surveyed identified culture management as an important or very important challenge for their organization.  

To help address this challenge, more companies are hiring culture officers or adding culture management to executive-level responsibilities within the company. To learn more about this emerging role and the why companies are hiring culture chiefs, I spoke to three company leaders to share their perspectives.

Culture at the Executive Level Some people think every company should have a culture chief, and others argue that culture should fall on everyone within an organization as opposed to just one person. But before one can even become responsible for company culture, it has to start at the executive level.

Tim Delbrugge started as the chief financial officer at Welocalize before transitioning to chief administrative officer. He quickly picked up on some of the unhealthier aspects of the organization like company politics and the lack of transparency from the top down. He eventually added culture to his long list of HR responsibilities and started pushing company leaders to really practice the culture and values they wanted to represent the organization.

“It’s one thing to have a culture chief for window dressing, but you have to have buy-in from everyone, and the key to that is the CEO. Our CEO has made culture one of our key objectives as an organization,” says Delbrugge.

As the company’s first culture chief, Delbrugge is tasked with incorporating the organization’s values into every aspect of onboarding, talent development and employment branding. But how does one measure the success of such broad challenges?

Key performance indicators will vary by organization and the priorities for each culture chief, but one that remains consistent and is measurable is employee turnover. Impact Advisors hired Michael Nutter in 2010 as its Director of Firm Culture and Associate Satisfaction to help sustain the company’s unique culture and 2% turnover rate.

“Our founders knew that if they wanted to continue to be successful and meet their growth goals, they’d need someone to help sustain the culture they’d already created and inspire new thoughts to grow it,” says Nutter.

To help gauge his success as culture chief, he also tracks happiness ratings based on one-on-one interviews he conducts with new employees.  

How Do You Know If You Need a Culture Chief? Culture is often established by company founders or other staff members who have been with the company since the early days. When companies grow rapidly and more employees enter the mix, culture needs to be actively managed to maintain a positive culture that’s cohesive with the company’s values.

“As you get bigger, you have to be more proactive about defending your culture because there are more people and outside influences,” adds Delbrugge.

If this sounds like your company, you may want to consider hiring a culture chief, or adding culture management responsibilities to an existing role. Here are some traits you might look for in a culture chief:

1. Organizational design and management skills. As a company grows, organizations often need to restructure teams, budgets and responsibilities. A culture chief who understands how a company’s structure influences its culture could be instrumental in managing culture shifts during growth or transitions.

2. Employment branding experience. How prospective applicants and employees perceive your company is critical to instilling your culture internally and communicating it externally as part of your recruiting strategy. Your culture chief should be able to help shape the messaging of your company’s values to build a strong employment brand.

3. Emotional intelligence. For many companies, the culture chief serves as the eyes and ears of the organization and is a trusted person who employees can consult regarding workplace issues. He or she should be able to connect with employees on an emotional level, and then bring up tough conversations with management or leadership as needed.  

Does your company have an executive culture chief? How do they measure their impact on the organization?

Jennifer King is an HR Analyst at Software Advice, an online resource that compares and reviews HR and employee performance evaluation software. You can read the full post on Jennifer’s HR blog.