The CEO is the CCO – Chief Culture Officer

The CEO is the CCO - Chief Culture Officer

Whether your business is large or small, if you are the CEO, you are also the CCO—the Chief Cultural Officer. Culture matters – it is what makes the difference between a thriving, profitable, and growing business and one that is lethargic and struggling. The CCO who takes on the creating, shaping, and development of the company’s culture will see a highly productive and happy workforce who produce significant bottom line results.

What defines a company’s culture?  

It includes three important elements:

  • Identity:  The company’s history, logo, image, language,  location, and the like
  • Values & Principles: Beliefs, core values, and underlying principles
  • Productive Energy:  Is it a TGIF culture? Or is it a TGIM culture—one where the workforce is eager to get to work on Monday, take risks, go the extra mile, and collaborate to help the customer? Are they excited to be at work?

For 25 years, I have measured companies’ productive energy and have concluded that all things being equal, the company that has a productive energy level of 80+% will outstrip the competition every time.

Company cultures don’t just “happen”. They reflect the personality, leadership style, values, vision, and preferences of the CEO and their senior leadership. There is a 1:1 correlation between the CEO’s beliefs, behaviors and attitudes and how the workforce behaves.

The Role of the CCO – Chief Culture Officer

To excel, it is the CEO’s job to be the Chief Cultural Officer, which is far more difficult than handling the financial, product/service, marketing, or customer ends of the business.

Here are some things the CEO can do to fulfill this role:

  • Creating: The CCO decides what type of culture the organization is going to have—command and control, transactional, or collaborative? Will it value transparency? Will it be siloed, matrixed, or flat? Will everyone be engaged? What will the compensation system reward—individual or team performance? These are only some of the questions.
  • Shaping: The CCO then ensures that the workforce is engaged in understanding and embracing the culture. If the workforce owns the culture, they’ll take care of it. The worst kind of culture is one that emerges from benign neglect. On-boarding employees, focus groups, two- way communications, and regular engagement—all of these tools help shape workforce ownership of the culture.
  • Developing: Cultures are not static. It is the CCO’s job to stay on top of the evolution and development of the culture so that it stays true to the original principles and values.

Finally, this job that can’t be delegated. It is exclusively the CEO’s role. It’s a choice as well: ignore this role and just let things happen organically, and you get what you get; or, embrace the role, grow into it, and let the power of the culture work for the workforce and the business.

About the Author

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Edward Marshall

Faculty Dr. Edward Marshall is an adjunct professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC, where he works with companies to build leadership cultures based on trust and collaboration. You can contact him at:, 919.265.9616.