Culture comes from the top. In fact, when we heard the term “Chief Culture Officers” we immediately thought how apt this was to describe anyone in a leadership position within a company. In this interview, Jared Lafitte he tells us about his theory on culture, and why the leaders in organizations need to act like Chief Culture Officers.
What is your background and what sort of work do you do?
I have been a self-employed business owner since 2008. My background was in private education, and I started a private tutoring company, as well as a music teaching company, immediately after college while pursuing my Master’s. Around 2013, after having grown in these professional areas, I shifted my focus to organizational coaching and professional development. I started my career with public speaking and presentation coaching. This evolved into pure executive coaching, organizational consulting, content development, and speaking for events. I’ve worked with leaders within Fortune 500 organizations, start-up entrepreneurs and everyone in-between. I also write regularly for a variety of publications on leadership and culture.
Leading By Example
Why do you think that members of the management team are Chief Culture Officers?
An organization’s culture is a system of beliefs, behaviors, expectations, traditions, and practices. This system manifests in the way it accomplishes objectives, expresses itself, sets priorities, and expands. Ultimately, your culture flows from the beliefs your people carry every day, and these beliefs are generally dictated by the words and communications they hear from their management, the experiences they have every day with management and each other, and the words they use with each other to interpret those experiences.
Management is at the very core of shaping these dynamics, the language and experiences that establish beliefs, trust, and motivation, and thus at the core of shaping your culture. And it’s happening all the time, not just when you throw parties. So even without knowing it, if you’re a leader, you’re acting as a Chief Culture Officer in the sense that you’re shaping your culture for better or for worse with almost everything that you do.
Why should management teams focus on culture? What are the benefits?
If we break away from the view that an organization’s culture as defined only with food, amenities, and Foosball, we can learn to see it as a larger system of beliefs and behaviors. We also will see that it is an all-encompassing thing for an organization. Culture acts as the central node through which the entire organization functions which influences engagement/productivity, turnover, communications, and relationships. It just so happens that these are the items that have the most significant effect on profitability, competitive advantage, and market presence, regardless of the nature of your product or service. So in essence, when you focus on your culture, you are taking care of your most critical financial and competitive asset.
Laying The Groundwork
What can we do as professionals to build culture?
- If you’re a leader in your organization, be willing to identify areas of unhealth and “pre-toxicity” (areas in which true toxicity hasn’t developed, but it’s on the way). A large portion of developing healthy cultures is simply being honest and objective about what’s not healthy in your organization. Too often leaders brush things under the rug until it’s too late.
- Make a commitment to change yourself as a leader, thinker, communicator, and person if you want your culture to change. Many leaders focus on changing their cultures but not changing themselves. They ask, “What do I need to add?” without assessing who they are in terms of their character, the way they build relationships, their interpersonal skills, becoming someone people can trust, and the like. Culture starts with character, trust, and relationships.
- Ask yourself: “What messages are we communicating each day, and are these messages getting to the right people, at the right times, and at the right frequency?” Language and communication is a huge part of how a culture is built, and you can make your culture better by being deliberate about your communications on everything from the messages you convey to the medium in which they are conveyed.
- Get your people involved. I’m not talking about one-and-done feedback surveys. I’m talking about regularly engaging in communicating one on one with people at all levels of the organization, asking questions like:
- What are some areas of unhealth you’re noticing?
- Do you feel listened to and cared about?
- Is there a disconnect between leaders and the people you work with?
- Do you have a sense of purpose and contribution?
- Do you feel you’re being given the tools you need to develop professional and personally?
These kind of dialogues will go a long way in culture building and creating alignment and vision.
What companies are doing a great job of building their cultures and what sorts of results have they seen?
I think Chick-Fil-A is an example of a company that has done a good job at bringing the human element into their culture by focusing deeply on character, trust, and relationships. The results over the past decade in particular have been spectacular as they’ve expanded in a brutally competitive food market.
Zappo’s is another example of an organization that has a robust clarity on their values and principles, and deliberately brings them to life. They’re clear and aligned in their culture and make sure people feel like they completely resonate with it (cultural fit) before they’re even hired. Southwest Airlines is another example of an organization that puts a high premium on the human interaction element of culture building from the top down which has helped them solidify a competitive advantage next to the big guys.
Chevron has a reputation for promoting a sense of well-being, safety and personal fulfillment. Of course, we have to mention Google, whose deliberations to create great experiences and a sense of employee care are the stuff of legends, even though it’s been starting to prove more difficult as they expand.
Be Your Company’s Chief Culture Officer
Culture is becoming the bedrock to the best organization’s ability to attract and retain the best people. And I think we can all agree that the best companies are driven by amazing talent. So, it’s imperative that all leaders within the company understand their role as a “Chief Culture Officer” and make cultivating this culture a focus for their work.
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