Seven steps to effectively drive culture from the CCO position

Seven steps to effectively drive culture from the CCO position

The following insights are from an article by our founder and CEO, Maril Gagen MacDonald, that was originally published on the Arthur W. Page “Page Turner” blog. 

As we develop Page thought leadership, we are doing so with the expressed needs of Page members in mind. Specifically, we have clearly and consistently heard that there is an appetite not only for conceptual thought leadership relating to the CCO’s evolving role, but also for practical instruction. We know there’s a desire for insights that can be quickly operationalized. This blog is an effort towards that end.

Over the past few weeks, I released two blog posts that explored the reasons that culture is an ascending focus for CCOs and principles for how the CCO can effectively lead culture change. In this third entry, I strive to introduce several important activities CCOs and their teams can undertake to help drive culture change. While no two culture change efforts are alike, and every company’s current efforts exist at different levels of maturity, these recommendations aim to provide activities that are universally relevant. Whether your organization is undergoing a massive culture transformation or simply nurturing a gentle evolution, these are activities that will benefit your performance.

Key activities to drive culture from the CCO position:

  • Define your desired culture: While this is an obvious starting point, it bears mentioning. Like strategies, cultures must be fluid and evolutionary. While certain foundational elements of a culture may remain constant over time, as our businesses adopt new priorities, enter new markets, and respond to shifting customer needs, our cultures must evolve too. As CCOs, we should be continuously challenging our C-suite peers to ensure alignment regarding what we need to derive from our cultures at any given time.
  • Create a visual identity for your culture: We all know the power visuals possess to simplify complex concepts. While culture is something that is shaped through a wide variety of experiences, visual identities are an important input into driving culture change. Having a visual identity system that evokes your company’s culture goals and consistently reinforces and reminds employees of the company’s desired culture is an important baseline element for success.
  • Conduct a gap analysis: Your desired culture is rooted in a set of behaviors that are required to serve customers effectively and realize your organization’s strategy. Some of those behaviors may be currently widely exhibited by employees, while others may be hardly present at all. CCOs should be utilizing both quantitative and qualitative research to help their companies recognize the gaps that exist between current and desired behaviors. At the most sophisticated levels, this research should not only pinpoint where gaps exist, but why they exist too.
  • Bake behavior change into your content strategy: Culture change efforts take off when the conversation elevates from naming the cultures we desire to inspiring the behaviors required to deliver our brands. This is why it’s critical that culture change efforts are supported not only by consistent messaging, but through storytelling that models desired behaviors. These stories should be developed to create an emotional—as well as a rational—connection to culture change and should be a foundational element of all internal communications, including town hall meetings, executives’ presentations, intranet content, etc.
  • Tackle quick wins: Often, seemingly small events can be catalysts for big change. Using the results of the gap analysis, implementing a series of small but symbolic changes to employees’ daily lives can register an outsized impact and dramatically jolt a culture.
  • Employ a social listening system: In today’s social media environment, culture issues are likely to surface on both internal as well as external social platforms. Every organization should have a process and system to listen for changes in how the company’s culture is discussed and portrayed by employees in public forums.
  • Identify your leading indicators: Positive and negative shifts in a culture often show up in operational metrics before they show up in employee survey data. If your culture is losing its focus on quality, you’ll see defect rates spike immediately and only six months later receive that news via employee sentiment. CCOs should work with peers to identify which operational metrics are most highly relevant to their culture goals, and then monitor that performance in real-time fashion. This will allow for quicker adjustments and more targeted impact.

As with the previous blog posts, this is very much intended as a starting point, not a finished product. Our goal is to collect feedback and input: What resonates? What doesn’t? What’s missing? As we hear from you, we will continue to develop processes and tools you can utilize in your role.

In the meantime, learn how to strategically approach culture in its many dimensions in Gagen MacDonald’s latest e-book, The Case for Culture: Unleashing your organization’s potential through six levers of change.