Who Should Own Culture in Today’s Organizations?

Who Should Own Culture in Today’s Organizations?

Culture is rapidly becoming a differentiator in business. We’ve historically thought of it as a means to attract talent. Increasingly it’s a way to attract customers too.

This opportunity to have Culture drive customer acquisition will bring into very sharp focus where – and who – in the C-suite should be held responsible and accountable for creating and nurturing culture.

The overlap between the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has been well documented for the past decade. This time the question of accountability will not be over Pixels, but over People.

This time the confrontation will be between Marketing and Human Resources.

Here are three areas where I see this playing out.

Purpose over Policy

Purpose has become one of the hottest areas in management thinking in the past few years. It has become a central mandate of Marketing in many organizations as executives seek new ways to differentiate themselves to prospective clients but also to prospective employees.

Popularized by Simon Sinek in his book “Start With Why,” Purpose is typically seen as the ultimate articulation of why an organization exists, where traditional descriptors like Mission Statements defined what an organization was doing to become successful.

What’s more, Purpose is seen to actually drive performance and help with both employee acquisition and retention. In their popular book, “Corporate Culture and Performance,” John Kotter and James Heskett drew significant parallels between organizations with a strong Purpose and financial performance. And, as we all know, anything that positively impacts the bottom line gets CEO attention.

Historically this hasn’t been the domain of HR. Instead, HR has been more accountable for crucial tasks like labour relations, benefits and compensation, annual leave and annual reviews. These tasks center more on managing people within an organization rather than inspiring them. In a Purpose-driven organization, the real opportunity doesn’t lie in articulating what is allowed but what is possible. Articulating that possibility lies firmly with the CMO today.

Culture as a Differentiator

Marketers spend their lives seeking to create – and market – a compelling differentiator to prospective customers. Tools like positioning statements and classic frameworks like the 4 P’s were built to determine and define these points of differentiation.

As access to markets and technology has obliterated the traditional barriers to entry in many categories, marketers have struggled to find those elusive differentiators. Even more elusive are differentiators that are sustainable and not easily copied by the competition. In many cases organizations are quickly realizing that their own culture is actually a point of differentiation and, considering how long it takes to nurture a great culture, it can’t be easily replicated.

Service-driven organizations are obvious examples where Culture is absolutely a differentiator. Consider how different the experiences at Starbucks, Southwest, Zappos and The Four Seasons are from their competition. But it’s not just service organizations where culture contributes to success. Internet behemoths like Reed Hastings at Netflix and Jeff Bezos at Amazon both cite their cultures as reasons their organizations have been able to capture market share and mind share so adroitly.

If culture can create meaningful and sustainable differentiation, and that differentiation drives customer preference and loyalty, it is inevitable that forward-thinking CMO’s will want to ensure they have a very firm hand in both creating and nurturing their organizational culture.

Brand Experience = Customer Experience AND Employee Experience

In reality, all brand experiences are a culmination of an expertly managed customer experience – and that’s often not feasible unless equal rigor is applied to the employee experience.

Simplistically speaking, marketing creates a promise in the market. But invariably it is employees who fulfill or fail on that promise when customers come calling. Case in point, United’s promise of “Fly The Friendly Skies” quickly became fodder for Senate hearings, late night comics and internet memes when their gate crew was anything but friendly. The disconnect between marketing promise and employee fulfillment couldn’t be starker.

It is not surprising then that employee experience initiatives are a rapidly growing area for consultancy engagements and F100 company investment. Both realize that spending time on internal audiences (employees) can be even more important than time spent on classic CX and UX endeavours. Author of the excellent book “What Great Brands Do” Denise Lee Yohn penned a great HBR article that outlined all elements of the employee experience journey and how focusing resources (and investment) on each stage would drastically increase not only the caliber of the staff an organization hired but also the critical level of engagement those employees would have.

If creating a world-class brand experience remains the remit of CMO’s, and without fully-engaged employees, that’s not possible, it stands to reason that employee experience and engagement should fall under that remit too.

For the record, as a long-time marketing veteran, my opinion is entirely subjective.

I’m certainly not debating the capability and competency of HR veterans merely suggesting that responsibilities like employee engagement, culture, employee experience are going to become areas of sharper focus if organizations want to avoid the social media outrage currently aimed at the airline industry.

Couple that with the reality that Marketing has increasingly become a very data-driven and ROI-driven function. We’re also seeing a rise in sophisticated HR software tools that directly gauge, measure and test employee engagement, satisfaction (or dis-satisfaction) and the impact on customer satisfaction. Marrying that proliferation of data to direct the organization forward will be critical.

Ultimately collaboration, not confrontation, is the hallmark of any well-functioning leadership team. Just as the CMO and the CIO had to find ways to work together to map a successful path forward, the CHRO and CMO will need to find a way to harness the very best of their unique experience and individual acumen.

Who do YOU believe should be accountable for culture within today’s high-functioning organizations? Please comment on social media.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from HiltonBarbour.com.

About the Author

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Hilton Barbour

Hilton Barbour is a brand and marketing strategist with 20 years of International experience in technology, packaged goods, professional services and hospitality sector. During his career, he consulted with some of the most iconic and respected businesses in the world, earning a reputation for being a thought-provoking and insightful collaborator. Hilton combines an insatiable curiosity and drive with a profound belief that today’s brands can only succeed if they marry Strategy, Culture, and Purpose. Working at the intersection of those three areas is where he delivers the most impact. Hilton’s personal mantra is “Question Everything,” which he finds useful for traversing today’s thorny and uncertain business climate. To contact Hilton directly, connect with him on LinkedIn.