By Dave Crisp
It’s often said success has many parents while failure is an orphan.
Successfully building organization culture probably fits into this well. If it succeeds, it’s the result of the entire senior team working effectively together. The CEO becomes the figurehead, but also has to participate by walking the talk. If that doesn’t happen, no amount of programs, training sessions, mission statements, corporate videos or fireside chats will repair the damage. So, yes, the CEO is the chief HR officer in a very important role — culture leader.
That point seems to be missed as often as it is understood. Fortunately, John Bell, a former CEO of a major company, clarifies this succinctly in an article from CEO.com that wisely urges CEOs to join themselves at the hip with their CHRO, agreeing with the likes of Jack Welch in his book Winning. He recommends using HR to help build the culture, warn what may be taking it off the rails, work toward building trust, build effective succession and hire to the required spec for keeping the culture strong.
The same message comes out indirectly in a new LinkedIn group on Lean Six Sigma, the combined "process and culture" system borrowed and extended from TPS, the much discussed Toyota Production System.
The particular conversation that caught my eye is typical — about halfway down, the technical arguments clarify into the core problem of getting the CEO and senior management team of any organization where you intend to implement this continuous improvement system to understand what it is: Not a one-time "program" that you train everyone on, but a culture change process that extends indefinitely.
All too often CEOs, boards of directors and senior teams miss the boat by not recognizing that when they choose a path to improve the organization via culture change, it is a continuous and ongoing process that they, too, must embrace and continually represent.
This even works in quite unusual cultures. Whatever one thinks of Facebook, it is interesting to see what their chief learning officer thinks about the Facebook culture of “hacking” (not as ominous as it sounds). The first part of this short video explains how it works, but the latter part of it points to the role of the CEO and senior team in setting the tone and work style. In this case, it will be interesting to see how the culture evolves as these executives age past their initial love affair with all-nighters... but, for now, they can no doubt set the pace.
Is there a message here to be wary of what culture you establish? Perhaps. Whatever it is, you have to be prepared to live with it, help it grow and spread it across all parts of the organization — no matter how large it gets.
Whatever culture is needed to fit particular companies and industries, clearly it won’t sustain and grow unless everyone participates and supports it. So in this sense, success not only has many parents, all rightfully claiming a proud part in developing the result, but it must have many parents and it requires many parents.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
No one person can drive culture through the entire organization. Leaders at every level have to be consistent.