The CEO Drives the Company Culture


What is company culture?

The definition of company culture from About.com isthe personality of a company and defines what a company, from an employee perspective, is like to work for. Company culture includes the company mission, values, ethics, expectations, goals, and work environment.”  Merriam-Webster tells us that company culture is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

Company culture comes from the CEO

I recently had the pleasure of meeting John Replogle, CEO of Seventh Generation, a consumer product goods company, when he came to speak as part of a panel on Managing the Growing Business at UNC Kenan-Flagler. He shared his thoughts on company culture, telling us that a big part of his job is to set the tone, and to share the passion, purpose, and mission of the company with everyone around him. John went so far as to say that since caring for the environment was such an important part of the culture at Seventh Generation, if a person didn’t care about the environment, then that person would likely not be a good fit for the company. John repeated that as the CEO, he drives the culture. I fully agree.

The CEO of a company drives the company culture.

The CEO of a company drives the company culture.

Culture comes from the top. This is true in the case of Seventh Generation and its true in the case of Bronto, a start-up that provides a cloud-based marketing platform. John Colopy, CEO of Bronto and another panelist at this same event, talked about how recruiting drives the culture as well. His advice was to make sure that potential hires not only can do the job, but want to do the job and are a good fit within the company culture.

Sometimes cultural changes happen on purpose, other times the changes are unplanned and can have negative repercussions. In one company I am familiar with, the CEO’s choice to stop attending technical presentations caused a company-wide shift in the perceived value of the R&D within the company from revenue generators to simply overhead. This unfortunately led to an exodus of science and engineering talent. In contrast, at GE the massive investments that Jeff Immelt put into the R&D center showed a renewed focus on organic growth from internal R&D. This caused an influx of scientists and engineers to the company.

Whether at a massive conglomerate like GE, or a start-up like Bronto, culture directly affects productivity and performance,  and is driven by the CEO. But company culture, which is company-specific, is also “the hardest thing to change” within a company. Culture can be a wonderful driver of productivity but it can also be a drag on your employees and a drain on productivity. Unfortunately there is no simple answer to developing a positive culture within any given company. But the one thing that seems to be clear from the CEOs I’ve spoken with is that the CEO (or whoever the leader at the head of the company is called) drives the culture.

What does this tell me?

If I am the CEO of a company and I’m concerned about the culture within the company, the first place I probably need to look at to improve said culture is me and my own actions. The source of the poor culture may very well be me! 

“A great corporate culture is like a propellant – it helps accelerate an organization toward achieving its goals.” —Jerry Rackley Vistage.com

I look forward to reading your comments on your experiences with culture and company leadership!

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Connect with me on LinkedInGoogle+Twitter (@SaraPaisner), via email, or contact me.

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