What does a culture manager do?
There are some job titles that span an enormous range of responsibilities, and consequently can are advertised at wildly differing salaries. Project manager is one of these - it can mean someone in charge of organising an office move, or someone heading up a billion pound infrastructure project.
Culture manager is a slightly similar title. It’s often bound up with other activities, but sometimes these are quite junior and sometimes they are very senior with a salary to match. So what exactly is a culture manager expected to do?
Cultural change - vagueness may be a bad sign
Very often, the job description is specifically asking the successful candidate to lead the way in transforming the organisational culture. Which begs the obvious question - to what? Clearly, the organisation feels that its culture isn’t where it should be. But the key line of enquiry is, what has brought about that conclusion? And in what way would it like to change it?
A typical job description recently posted said that the culture manager should change the culture, particularly around inclusion and engagement. Right. More of it? Less of it? And where are we starting from? A lot of companies have realised that they fall short in some or all of these areas, but they have no idea as to where they are going with any inclusiveness agenda.
Let’s say you’re city bankers - are you OK with a male employee coming to work in a dress because they’re more comfortable meeting their clients dressed like that? If you’re not, and you just hired someone to make you more inclusive, you need to decide what your expectations are.
The vagueness of some of the cultural aspirations expressed by companies may attract some can-do managers, who feel that they can really make a difference. But equally, it will deter many because they will suspect that they’ll soon become mired in the internal politics of an organisation that doesn’t have a realistic view of itself. So companies need to take a really honest look at where they want to go before they launch off into a cultural change exercise.
This all means that a large part of a culture manager’s job may be to understand where the organisation currently is and to figure out where it's trying to get to. This has to be expressed as a vision for the future, but assessed too in business terms. What might be the benefits to recruitment, workforce skills, productivity, innovation, staff fulfilment and well-being? Only then is it possible for the culture manager to produce a road map that will move the organisation along the path it has chosen.
The culture manager must then influence the key senior stakeholders to back this vision by providing the resources necessary to achieve it and by allowing the organisational change that will encourage it.
Job ads that are overly prescriptive and imply a regimented and strictly hierarchical culture, may actually be a warning sign. The culture manager needs freedom of movement if they are going to be successful in moving the organisation forward. The most forward-thinking organisations allow their culture managers a great deal of autonomy as to how they achieve their objectives and these organisations are undoubtedly the ones that are most likely to succeed in actually changing their culture.