Does your company need a CCO (chief culture officer)?

In 2007, CNET published an interview with Googles “culture czar”, Stacy Savides Sullivan, in which she discusses her role as chief culture officer (CCO). While the article acknowledges that Google was not the first institution to have a CCO, they hail them as trendsetters in popularising the role. But what exactly does a CCO do? What are their goals and responsibilities? And why does culture even matter?

Why Culture Matters

“Culture is the common set of behaviors and underlying mindsets and beliefs that shape how people work and interact day to day.”

McKinsey Organization Blog

Sally Savides Sullivan summed up her role up as working with employees to figure out how to “maintain and enhance and develop our culture and how to keep the core values we had in the beginning”. This hints at an incredibly broad scope. Her job, and that of every other CCO, is to clarify what the company values and culture are, and how to align those with employees and day-to-day practices. If done successfully this might lead to improvements in employee and customer satisfaction and retention, a healthier internal climate as well as a general increase in productivity.

Culture manifests in visible and invisible attributes. Source

“Culture” in this case generally refers to beliefs and mindsets that people hold, which will influence their actions. These are often not visible to the naked eye, which can make them hard to understand and challenge. But good company culture is key to success.

 According to research McKinsey has conducted, organisations with top quartile cultures post significantly higher returns to shareholders than those with median or bottom quartile cultures[1]. They have also found that a robust company culture can help an organisation adapt to change, while unhealthy culture often leads to underperformance. Their point? It doesn’t come down to smarter people, better products, or more savvy strategy. Its about building a culture and climate that allows the company to keep growing and adapting, while sustaining its advantages over competitors.

Is it Really a Must-Have?

So, the CCO might be an important role in an organisation with thousands of employees, but does every company need one? Especially in a smaller business it might seem superfluous to designate a chief culture officer, when it seems like there hardly is any culture to be in charge of.

 On their company blog, the CEO of the consulting company MindSet argues that every company with more than 75 employees should have a CCO. His argument is not that someone must have that title, but rather that there should be a designated individual filling the role. Whether that comes in the form of specifically hiring a CCO, or simply having the CEO or head of HR devote themselves to building and maintaining company culture. Indeed, in most start-ups it automatically is the founders and CEOs that spearhead the creation and sustenance of a company mythos and values, internally and externally.

The author, Dr Hoogeveen, goes on to make another crucial point. While it does not matter who fills the role of CCO, with that title or without, they need to have power. Without the power to affect change, to company practices or employee behaviour, the CCO can do little more than create empty recommendations and provide trainings that will lead nowhere.

But say you have a CCO who is empowered to make changes based on their analyses, what areas might they target? One potential area is through market analyses of competitors and customer demographics. Another avenue might be through clarifying the company values internally as well as to outsiders. Or to examine and potentially improve leadership and management strategies. There are many ways a CCO can create value for a company, but it all begins with the recognition that a healthy culture is a key ingredient for organisational success.


Chief Culture Officer: Lasting Impact or Passing Fad? | MindSet

Culture: 4 keys to why it matters | McKinsey & Company

Do we need a chief culture officer – Denison Consulting

Meet Google’s culture czar

Point of View: Does Your Company Need a Chief Culture Officer? | The Inclusion Solution

What Does a Chief Culture Officer Do? |

What Is a Good Company Culture?

Your corporate culture will define the future of your company | LinkedIn

[1] Culture as measured by their Organizational Health Index (OHI)