Sometimes to go faster, you have to slow down.
After 20 years in the corporate arena, I was cruising at top speed believing that execution was optimized if alignment between organizations and strategies and clients was achieved. One night while working on a revenue plan I observed my then 17 year old son. He was simultaneously Tweeting, conversing, posting to Instagram which updated Facebook, buying Converse online, and occasionally checking email. A few minutes later, my 81 year old mother called me to talk about his Facebook update.
While I knew the importance of social networks, its impact was made clear that night. 18 or 81, people were communicating, buying, sharing, and living in unexpected ways. I knew that businesses had to understand and adapt to these emerging phenomenons. HR needed to change. Marketing needed to evolve. Technology needed to embrace.
I thought about my son and his contemporaries entering the job market. Were organizations prepared for the millennials? To be an effective executive, I knew I had to understand this revolutionary shift. So I turned to my anthropological roots and spent a year conducting ethnographic research among high school students and young adults. I took a pause. I slowed down to gain the understanding necessary to speed business execution in the future.
The learnings were many, but the most important take-away is that organizations need a Chief Culture Officer to appreciate and develop the new ideas, approaches and demands that the new employees and clients will bring. Organizational culture, transformations and quick adaptations will be critical to success. New social technologies are embraced and abandoned at rapid paces. Groups are established and disbursed as purposes come and go.
In this dynamic world, corporate culture must be viewed as a living organism with a DNA that can either be manipulated, cloned or eliminated to remain in alignment with markets and technologies. To achieve corporate advantage, every organization needs a Chief Culture Officer to create responsive strategies to engage employees, enculturate a corporate identity, and enhance the overall brand. Through ethnography the Corporate Culture Officer captures what inspires employees and attracts and retains customers, but even the approach to ethnography must change. The data lives in new places that need to be explored. A Tweet may sometimes be the greatest referral or recommendation a company can obtain. The cultural identity of every organization lives both online and offline.
A Chief Culture Officer realizes that businesses are rooted in passions and need, and consequently have become an emotional experience for employees and customers. Corporate success is vested in the sanctity of its culture. Everything a business does is driven by its culture. Companies like Google and Southwest Airlines accepted this truism early.
A Chief Culture Officer must do more than talk. Mission Statements and Values posted all over the company are not the method of changing culture. Action and behavior will establish, drive and adjust change. The most insidious and transformative changes occur in times of challenge and crisis. The online social revolution is creating conditions for extreme change. The Chief Culture Officer must understand the internal processes, communication methods, informal organizations, and sub-cultures that exists. He must also have an understanding of technology, marketing and human capital management. Culture is a grassroots movement and cannot be controlled top-down, but an effective Culture Officer is accepted from the boardroom to the mail room. Culture includes everything an organization does, and it is encouraging that businesses are beginning to accept the notion of a Chief Culture Officer as a key to transformative change.