6 Characteristics of Culture Champions

By: Marty Parker

The main champion of culture is the leader. But in any organization that is looking to either change or otherwise continuously improve its culture, it is crucial for the leader to identify at an early stage who else within the organization is going to be on his or her side.

We call these “culture champions”. They are people who have the desired behaviours of the culture that the company aspires to and who are visible within the organization.

What are the key characteristics of culture champions? Here are a few to help you identify them within your own organization:

  1. Culture Champions Have Natural Credibility and Leadership Skills: Others follow these individuals. They get results. If they’re not in direct leadership roles, they achieve results through others – through collaboration, and simply by getting things done. What you are looking for in your champion is someone who will be a living example of your organization’s values.
  2. Culture Champions are Energetic and Supportive of the Change: More than anything, the champion has great enthusiasm for the change; they believe it is the right thing to do. Culture champions may not always be extroverted people, but they do have to have the ability to be persuasive – through their words and their actions, but ideally through the latter. If you’ve identified someone as a potential champion and you have to draw out her support for the change, than she is likely not the right person.
  3. Culture Champions Have the Ability to Communicate the Need for Change: Culture champions have the ability to articulate why there is a need for change. When they come across someone who is not moving along in that direction, they can explain why it’s so important that they change course. They understand the critical importance of buy-in, across the board.
  4. Culture Champions are Empathetic and Appreciate How Difficult Change Can Be: Champions don’t expect change overnight. They may be enthusiastic, but champions also understand that just because they’re charging forward with culture change, it doesn’t mean others will be able to do so as easily. Culture champions understand that for some it’s more difficult. If it reaches the stage where a person has to be transitioned because they can’t adapt to the change, a culture champion will still have empathy and understanding.
  5. Culture Champions Have the Ability to Make Tough Decisions: Tough decisions about their own behaviour, and tough decisions about the behaviour of others. Culture champions are also not afraid to communicate to leadership when they see a repeated instance of others not living the values.
  6. Culture Champions Should be Living Examples of the Values: Culture champions should exhibit repeated examples of their successful use of the desired behaviours in the new environment. They should be consistently showing others these behaviours on a day-to-day basis.

Remember at all times that people drive behavioural change in an organization – not business plans, not even systems. These things support the change, but it’s people, your champions, that drive it.

You can read more in my book, Culture Connection, where I explore ways to identify, leverage and support culture champions in your workplace.