Ginger Hardage and I connected years ago when I called Southwest Airlines, asking if I could visit the headquarters and observe more carefully what made this company such a magnet for getting and keeping talent. Ginger was my contact. She recently retired as as Senior VP Corporate Culture and Communications and now is ready to share her vast knowledge with the rest of the world.
Those of you who follow my work know that I believe a resilient, sustainable organization needs to create a culture for achievement, growth, and meaning… not to mention fun.
Thank, you Ginger for offering your insights.
Whose Job is Corporate Culture Anyway?
For some of you, the word "culture" might appear in your job title and loom large as a key strategic focus for you. Some of you may have an element of culture that falls within your job description. Others may be desperately hoping that anyone in their organization will begin to care about the topic!
The topic of corporate culture has been active in some organizations for decades, but it is now going mainstream as more institutions are addressing organizational health. Recent headlines around sexual harassment and equality in the workplace highlight the critical need to set the right tone in our organizations. Rightfully so, employees are demanding that our workplaces live up to the hype.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of interest about corporate culture, my contention is: Culture is everyone's responsibility. But how this priority plays out can look differently depending on your "seat on the bus" (to paraphrase Jim Collins).
So how does that break down? And, what should that practically look like in my organization? There are a few critical roles that must all work in parallel for this to become a reality.
Senior Leadership - Usually, when I'm approached about a potential consulting opportunity involving corporate culture, it is from the CEO or a senior leader in the organization. So there is no question about the priority placed on culture by the C-suite. But when the outreach does not originate from the C-suite, my first question is about the buy-in from senior leadership. If the leaders of an organization are not signed on about cultural change and do not see the importance of modeling the behavior that is expected in the organization, then it's a lost cause. Employees immediately see though a leader who is "all talk and no action."
The Right Leader - Rather than debate where Culture should reside in a company, focus on identifying the right person to lead the charge. That individual should embody the values of the organization and have the level of influence to assure that policies, practices, and programs are driven throughout every level of the company. My title at Southwest Airlines was Sr. VP of Culture and Communications and that structure is still in place. At other organizations, Culture may fall under the Human Resources umbrella. Regardless, creating and sustaining a healthy environment will take discipline and cooperation between multiple departments. So focus on identifying the right individual who can collaborate with others to push for change.
Every Leader - Culture is everyone's responsibility. Every leader and employee in the organization should be held accountable for living the values of the organization. Best-in-class organizations make sure that measurement against the values of the organization are part of the performance evaluation process. One of the preeminent communications associations espouses: Realize an enterprise's true character is expressed by its people.
When organizations focus on these areas and ultimately embrace Culture as everyone's responsibility, true cultural transformation begins. Make sure all of these people groups are identified and empowered to do their part to build a culture of greatness.