You might need a Company Culture VP

Having an Innovation or Digital VP in is always a good sign that the company doesn’t care enough to invest deeply the subject. Someone eventually ends up in charge because the board passed the hot potatoe to her. But for corporate culture, that might actually be a good idea…

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In the past year or so, with so many media scandals about various company culture dysfunctions, many other corporate cultures being dissected, scrutinised and analysed, and the many advice published online, it seems about time to hire Company Culture VPs to ensure the culture is supporting and not hindering your strategy and image. In this short article, I’m presenting the three key missions of the company culture VP.

Keeping the finger on the pulse

The Company Culture VP regularly checks and observes life in the organisation and uses appropriate tools to keep her finger on the pulse.

The key idea is really the regularity, as the company culture is like a living and breathing organism. It needs to be observed at different times of the year, stages of the life of the organisation and through unpredictable events and crisis. Like an anthropologist would do.

Regarding his skills, the Company Culture VP will need to be very open minded, curious and non-judgemental in order to really see the culture.  And like a researcher, she will need to use the appropriate tools to measure, analyse and report on a vast quantity of date.

For measuring engagement I’ve seen the traditional Gallup surveys which are now outdated because not close enough to the employees and the specificities of your organisation. Instead startups like Teambay  build simple, user-friendly and tailored online platform to measure regularly the level of engagement of teams. This can help not only the Company Culture VPs but managers also to keep the finger on the pulse of the organisation.

Whispering in CEO’s ear

The CC VP keeps the CEO aware of what will culturally support and what will hinder his/her strategic vision.

How many times have we observed companies communicate on a grand vision, only to see them either fail or double back because the company culture went against it?  This is often because the company culture has escaped from the CEO’s and ExCom’s reach. They are disconnected from the « real life » of the organisation. Often unaware of its cultural strengths and weaknesses.

The role of the Company Culture VP is to ensure the decision-makers are informed, aware and take notice of the cultural life of their organisation. So not only her communication skills are key but also her capacity to understand strategy and be respected at the decision-makers’ table.

Networking with influencers

It is key to network with influencers in the organisation to support the design and implementation of cultural transformation when necessary.

This is where the tough part begins. To ensure any cultural transformation actually happens, it is key to have influencers on board. Whoever the « influencers » are in your organisation: managers, key services, experts, unions, developers, salespeople etc. Again regular contacts, attending key events with them, understanding their drivers, are the first steps. The next step is implementing a co-constructed transformation strategy. Influencers will first need to be on-boarded and find meaning in the transformation. Next, they may need support to implement change, be it training, tools, or other programmes like mentoring. The Company Culture VP is a coordinator or facilitator ensuring the coherence of the overall transformation (full-stack approach).

Internal or external VP?

It is very likely that the company culture VP is an external agent at first. This will allow him/her to have enough distance to stay unbiased and not be too attached to the existing culture and help CEO see when the transformation is appropriate. However, the way the CCVP works needs to be in regular contact with the organisations, with various teams, in order to have enough proximity to deeply understand the culture, and not just have a superficial perspective based on the company video and 2 surveys.

Of course, the Company Culture VP can be an internal agent, as it may become a full-time job in certain companies. However, it cannot be limited to one department (like HR) it needs to be transverse and strategic enough to have a real impact.

Author: Stéphanie

Specialist of Executive Coaching and Entrepreneurial Mentoring, insightful and open-minded, Stéphanie accompanies organisations in their cultural transformation to support innovation and business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.