By serving as a “culture counselor” and a conservator of corporate character to the CEO, demonstrate how a strong corporate culture shapes corporate reputation, and a leading voice in the C-suite, CCOs can use the culture-reputation nexus to align a company’s workplace with its marketplace.

- From AWPS slide on CCO role March 2010

Good for AWPS. We’re absolutely right to move corporate communications officers into corporate culture issues. A good-value belief system inside a company is sometimes the only thing going for the company.

I’ve been teaching crisis communications and ethics at Georgetown. Both of these hang on what the people in the company are made of, how they’ve conducted themselves personally and how they think, judge and act as a group (which is a company).

Crises that get judged outside have to lean on the stuff inside. What gets communicated out there when the company is under fire can be laughed out of town or worse if the people inside don’t believe it or feel it.

Crisis communications means honest, two-way, ongoing engagement with stakeholders. It means the Arthur Page thing – tell the truth with proof points—and the Mahatma Gandhi thing—listen and learn—to earn or recover trust.

Ethical behavior is the same thing—doing right by people and, without trying to be cute, sticking to the deal of equities or social capital that every company has with its stakeholders.

And I have to disclose that I have personally seen up-close what a public relations professional can do to help a company up-value its culture. I came into a consulting relationship at Navistar when Maril Macdonald had put just such a culture in place, so I’m testifying that it can be done. Greg Elliott has been building on the Navistar value-culture for a dozen years. It works.

So I’m with the program. I just open this blog to get some feedback. I’m open to guidance, especially in this teaching proposition that a lot of you are just naturally good at.

But now that the Society has come to focus on this, attempting the very interesting proposition of linking reputation and culture, I’m just brave enough to throw out some questions and get some discussion going around it.

How relevant and how strong is the nexus between corporate reputation—earned in great measure through effective external communications and successful product and service brands—and corporate culture, which is centered in employee and management relationships, performance and values?

How does the role of chief communications officer, or his or her position to be effective in shaping culture, differ from that of the human resources officer or director and others in upper management?

What are the responsibilities and steps that can be taken by the CCO to determine the state of the current culture, engage and influence top management on the necessity of adding value to the culture—in effect, to perform as an effective “culture counselor”?

I admit I’m outside the leadership, and I underscore that I’ve got all the respect in the world for our leadership and love the way that Bill Margaritis is following our growth path and is laying out more opportunity, so I guess I’m asking for myself and for the students at Georgetown who are probably going to ask me this question:

What does a culture counselor do?