The New C-Level Position

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There’s a reason we never had a Chief Culture Officer at Zappos. Tony Hsieh, CEO said it’s everyone’s responsibility. The moment we elect one person in charge of it, people can assume it’s being done without their efforts. That’s far different from a CFO. It’s good to have someone stress the money so that everyone else can do their jobs.

Now that everything is going virtual (including big companies like Twitter telling their people they don’t have to come back to the office), there is a new need emerging.

When we lose the office, we lose a real sense of place that connects us. Imagine if your family suddenly went virtual. Your spouse and kids all in separate buildings, only connecting on Zoom. Think it would feel different? It would change your whole sense of identity.

That means the glue that’s holding a company together is communication itself.

That’s why I believe enterprises will need a new C-Level position:

Chief Communications Officer

Many companies already have someone in this position at the director, or VP level, but there’s a problem in that. This person is usually stressed out because they don’t have a team and they have to deliver tough messages, all while being positive enough to keep their job. They also don’t have the level of authority they need to be properly respected, and thus end up playing politics far more than they need to.

At the C-level, this person would have the following responsibilities:

Advise CEO to C suite communications
Advise CEO to board communications
Facilitate C suite group discussions
Craft messages from C suite to upper/mid management
Work with mid management to craft message to supervisors and front line 
Set company wide communication standards and protocols
Educate the company on virtual communication
Set the tone of appropriate humor

This is all the WHAT.

But what’s also important is the HOW, because the game has changed. This is no longer about long emails that people never read. We are now in the Instagram TikTok age. I saw this coming early on at Zappos – People realized that messages would not necessarily get read when they were sent out to the whole company. So they would include funny images that get people’s attention.

This Chief Communications Officers would direct the graphic designers, photographers, video producers and writers to create:

Short form video
Infographics
Memes
Virtual events
Scoreboards / Dashboards
Short impactful emails
Internal Podcast
More that I haven’t even thought of. 

When disruption is happening as quickly as it is, it’s time to make bets based on the intersection of our values and trends. 

The Hiring Hack

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This hack comes from the brilliant business coach, Cindy Ertman. It’s the answer to the question, “How do you get the real story from a reference when you’re hiring?”

It’s a dilemma for the reference, because they want to be helpful, but they don’t want to share the person’s weaknesses for fear of keeping the candidate from getting the job. So how do you hack that?

Culture hacks are in language…

1. “What’s the one thing they could do to improve?”

Boom. They’re about to tell you the candidate’s weakness.

2. “Would you hire them again?”

This is a true test to see if they’re a quality hire. If there’s any hesitation to say yes, you know what the answer is.

Part of the culture hacking process is to find the vulnerabilities within a system and the new hire process is very vulnerable because you could get someone who makes your life easy, or tanks the company from gross negligence. These culture hacks will make sure you see early warning signs.

 

5 Hour work days?

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5-Hour work days? The all-star of Deep Work, Cal Newport makes a compelling case in the Wall Street Journal.

This is actually how culture work began. Factories used to have long days with no vacations, until experimentation proved that having people work less can mean more. Working less meant more long-term work due to fewer injuries and thus lower turnover costs.

Could this be our future?

If you think this is all good news, it’s not as simple as less work. The companies that do it also add more discipline such as no social media or even phones during those highly focused hours.

As usual, don’t believe this or a anything I say! Test it out for yourself and use real-world data.

Beware the Shadow Directive

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This is a danger when you have too many priorities. It happens when the leaders believe and communicate that everything is important.

Because they create so many goals, people know that it’s simply impossible to reach them all at once, so they do one of two things:

  1. Nothing – All those rules can’t be enforced, so why change behaviors?
  2. Follow the Shadow Directive – They realize that while the leaders say one thing, workers are being evaluated on something else that determines their future. Examples include:
  • Do whatever is on fire
  • Please my manager
  • Do whatever makes us money
  • Work long hours (even if not productive)
  • Keep head down and stay out of trouble

The alternative is the Prime Directive.

What’s the one or two big things that will move the needle on everything else?

Invite people to opt-out

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What happens when you’re ready for a culture change, but you know that your company is not. What can a leader do or say in this position?

Once the culture standards (values) are determined, the leader must absolutely live by example. There’s no way around that. But that can take time. What can the leader do or say now?

First and foremost -share the why. Why a culture shift? Why do you want change? How will we all benefit.

Secondly, invite them to opt-out…

“In order to develop this culture, we have to change our behaviors. Now some of you are very excited about this and have wanted it for a long time. Others may be resistant. We’ll work through it together, but let me be absolutely clear – If you have the sense you do not want to be here, or you know in your heart that you are not giving 100% to your job, then I recommend you start considering other options while it’s still your choice.”

Setting standards can be very powerful – if you keep to them. And it’s actually a courtesy to let people know you will do that in advance so that they can choose their own future.

“How do I get someone in another department to do something?”

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You need to get something done. But you need someone in another department to make a change. You have no authority over them.

For some reason, they won’t do it. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they’re too busy.  What’s one to do?

The solution is to really get to know the other person.

It’s very likely they feel you don’t understand their role, their department, their workload, or their emotions. Because of this, they may not even hear your words. They have other priorities. But if you get to know them over time, they will feel you understand them. And only then will they really start to hear you.

There’s no way to circumvent building relationships within culture. Better to start now. Before there’s a problem.