Categorized | Career

Corporate Culture Coordinators

Posted on 29 November 2008

Hey, remember way back in 1999 when the New Economy was flying high? Companies couldn’t do enough to attract and retain talent: Massage breaks, A-list rock stars entertaining at company parties, catered five-course dinners, etc. And then, to make absolutely sure everyone whistled while they worked, a slew of companies hired “culture coordinators,” or official company cheerleaders.

Now that the Digital Boom has hit rough-and-tumble times, are companies ditching this concept? The career prospects for culture coordinators would seem to be as promising as those for, say, freelance shepherds. But recruitment experts disagree.

The Cultural Collapse
John Henkel, president of Management Recruiters in Wisconsin, is one of those experts. “Since the culture coordinator position is an overhead type of job,” he says, “companies are going to look at it very hard when times are lean. When companies are continually looking for cost savings, this position could be in real jeopardy.”

Improving culture at a company is about more than providing a foosball table.

But Susan Cinco, vice president of Management Recruiters of Melbourne in Florida, says there’s still plenty of need for such a position–and not simply for rah-rah morale-boosting in bad times. “I see more of a continuing need for a culture coordinator,” she says, “and it really isn’t tied into the state of the economy. With mergers and acquisitions becoming the norm, this person is needed to blend workers and company philosophies. With the diversity of the workforce, you have the new X and Y generations coming on board with a mature, older workforce and management staff. You need a coordinator to help both sides figure out what drives them.”

A great culture coordinator can produce concrete, substantive benefits. Consider Diane Rich. She serves as “chief culture officer” at Massachusetts-based iPhrase, an enterprise information software company. By coordinating the efforts of ten in-house “culture” teams, Rich has pushed employee commitment to physical fitness, healthy diet, company-driven volunteerism, recreation, and family needs.

“These efforts are a reflection of the individual here,” says Rich. “It’s not being dictated, as it is in most cases, by one of the founders. At iPhrase, we don’t have a founder with that kind of ego. So we pursued this from the bottom up, to reflect the values of the employees.” Indeed, iPhrase’s roster of in-house culture teams might sound a bit corny: iEscape, iEat, iGive, iSweat, and so on. But for many modern professionals, the corporate life tends to define their own. The leaders at iPhrase want their employees to be productive, resourceful, and well rounded.

Birth of the Cool
The company offers many other projects and outings for their workers. The dinner rotation features an eclectic variety, with yogurt and fruit replacing cookies and chips. Employees are helping a local high school design its own Web site, tutoring at a local grammar school, and building homes for Habitat for Humanity. And they host golf outings, Boston Harbor cruises, an in-house Battle of the High Tech Bands, and fall foliage hikes.

“Yes, I realize there’s the impression that culture isn’t cool anymore,” Rich says. “It’s a sad perception, but it isn’t true. The goal of a culture coordinator shouldn’t be putting on fun events for the sake of having fun. They should create an environment for talented people to enjoy what they do, and contribute to our success.”

Perhaps Rich’s own business-focused background helps. She started her career at Arthur Andersen, focusing on the turnarounds of mid-market companies, and went on to serve as a consultant on strategy development and operations within the telecommunications industry. She has a BS from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the esteemed Wharton School of Business. At iPhrase, chief culture officer is just one of two titles: Rich’s is also vice president of new markets.

This mission-focused experience elevates her culture-focused duties in the eyes of her colleagues. “The problem with so many companies is that they don’t tie culture into business objectives,” Rich says. “That’s why the culture coordinator position gets cut when the going gets rough. It’s more than a surface-level thing here. Improving culture at a company is about more than providing a foosball table.”

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