Letter to the Chief Culture Officer

An emerging trend seems to be hiring someone to operate as a company’s “Chief Culture Officer.” You can find out a bit more about the concept of a CCO here, here, and here. As I thought about this new role, I imagined a member of a company, part of some division, writing to a new CCO anonymously with the following poem. While the idea of a CCO has a great deal of potential, it seems to me a real challenge (if the job is going to matter) will be to address the dark, cynical undertow that in many places has been dismissed and become officially undiscussable….

To the Chief Culture Officer

I heard you’d been hired not long ago
because our company’s “values” are said to be sacred.
I wanted you to know before you get too lost
the secret that everyone knows:
they’re not.

And now we wonder why exactly you’ve been hired.
Was it because the other C’s didn’t want that part of their job?
Because they want us “engaged” but don’t want
their own engagement in the problems the rest of us must solve,
including how they fight among themselves, freely project
their self-deceptions, keep pushing for more
but don’t listen to the ideas that involve them and how they lead,
ideas that might truly help?
Because they want to stay safe in their silted-in, siloed stature?
Because they don’t like anything from us “too negative?”

Whatever. It’s yours now and it’s the same old stuff, S.O.S.
My gifts to you are the long hours no one believes will ever change,
and the pay cuts and layoffs while profits soar.

Hire the “right people” they say, but that’s just more code
and I’m sure, being so smart, you know exactly what that means,
for you, too.

You see, there’s another truth that burns — and our hope
is that you can help tell it, please.
It’s almost too simple: just talk, talk with each other about what’s real,
loosen up, would you? It’s like that old joke:
insanity isn’t about having a screw loose;
it’s about having them all too tight.

Just — truly, sincerely — talk with each other, you know,
and with us who you might notice do the work.
Yes, talk with us and listen to something else
than your own immutable analyses, reducing us to numbers and trends.
You can’t imagine what we can see through,
or what’s buried in our hearts. You don’t need
to “select for passion.” We are passion — or once were.
You don’t need a plan for us; it’s so clear what you really need
is a better plan for yourselves.

I wanted to send this letter because, you know,
what I really believe is that we are all Chief Culture Officer,
every one of us here and now you’ve kind of taken that job.
And it appears to be, as I said, just the same old stuff.
S. O. S.

No one knew (how could they?) nor hiring you
do they yet know.

If you were the new CCO and got this letter or something like it, what would you do?

(The next post, “Response of the Chief Culture Officer,” offers ideas on how to respond!)

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