CEOs play a critical role in shaping company culture, whether they do it intentionally or not. Although the CEO is just a single individual, their influence on the culture can be far-reaching. The changes they make, the policies they create, and the behaviors they model all influence the way others in the organization behave, and culture is essentially behavior. From communicating the big-picture vision to ensuring organizational values are present in the day-to-day details, CEOs must be deliberate about their behaviors to ensure that they support the company culture.
Organizational values affect the decisions people make, and ultimately, the path of the company. The CEO’s role is to clearly define these values and ensure that they are embodied throughout the organization. Every company has unique values, and it’s up to CEOs to establish them in a way that permeates to every individual. This starts with getting buy-in from senior leadership to help shape the culture. Values are also reinforced through CEO behaviors such as attending development programs, participating in group discussions, and generally being present and accessible. Defining values doesn’t happen by sending a single memo; it happens when you behave, act, and make decisions in ways that support those values on a consistent basis.
Culture should be a high priority when hiring new employees and promoting existing ones. Just having the necessary competencies is not enough if CEOs want to build a particular culture. New hires and promotions, especially those in management roles, must fit into and enhance the organizational culture. Growing a business requires getting the right people in the right positions, but those people must also embrace the values of the organization. The on-boarding process should include training that supports cultural values to instill the importance of those values while also giving new hires the skills and competencies they need to thrive in the organization.
Training and Development
Training and development should be an ongoing process that supports cultural values. It must go beyond the initial training after hiring and continue throughout an employee’s career at the organization. CEO's who want to shape the company culture should recognize the importance of training and development and ensure that these programs have the necessary support, both culturally and financially. An investment in development is an investment in the future success of the organization.
Aligning Organizational Processes
Running an organization of any size requires a head-spinning amount of interconnected systems and processes. As the people who focus on the big picture, CEO's influence which systems, policies, and processes are implemented for nearly every department and function. Although they might not personally interact with these systems, they must ensure that they support organizational culture and values. Aligning day-to-day processes with the overall mission and goals reinforces the culture. On the other hand, incongruence can erode the culture. For example, a company that strives to be efficient and productive cannot get bogged down with complex processes and redundant systems. The systems and processes must be a reflection of the culture.
The CEO plays a central role in defining the organizational culture and values and ensuring that they are embodied through hiring practices, training and development, and systems and processes. This requires a strong and ongoing commitment to living the culture every day. When employees see the CEO behave in a way that demonstrates company values, it resonates and encourages them to do the same. On the other hand, when they see discrepancies, it tells them that their behavior doesn’t matter because the CEO is not walking the talk. Ongoing leadership development ensures that CEOs, senior executives, and leaders at every level gain the necessary skills for transforming and maintaining the desired company culture.