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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