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ATD Blog

Culture Heroes


Mon Nov 24 2014

Culture Heroes

Building a high-performance culture takes time, but it can easily be done by bringing together a team of culture heroes. A culture hero is a highly engaged employee who naturally encourages other employees to be more engaged and productive. They are critical to organizations that are dealing with change—mergers, acquisitions, or organizational restructures—or simply those companies that need help reigniting their culture. Bringing together a team of culture heroes is one of the best ways to drive company culture across the organization. Their energy and enthusiasm will help promote a high-performance culture of loyal and engaged employees.

Defining Goals and Forming the Squad

First things first, define the culture squad’s goals and gain leadership alignment. Essentially, the team should be driving all culture initiatives. This might include:

  • monthly or quarterly business meetings

  • opportunities for recognition

  • volunteer opportunities

  • weekly or monthly fun activities and holiday parties.

Another great way of defining the team’s goals is to benchmark with industry leaders. You can start by researching corporate websites or connecting with folks who work at companies like Google, Yum! Brands, Southwest, and even Zappos. These well-known brands have established a fun and engaging culture, and as the saying goes, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Once you have a plan, be sure to gain leadership alignment from key team leaders or the human resource department, and have them champion your initiative to gain support from senior leaders.

The next step is to form your culture squad. In most instances, it seems natural for the human resource function to lead company culture initiatives, but it is important to be inclusive of all functional teams. Think of a creative way to get people involved and communicate the benefits of being part of a leadership team that drives culture initiatives across the organization. Perhaps the selection process could include an audition, where potential candidates are required to film a five-minute video on why they feel they’d be a great culture hero.

Once you have the team in place, assign roles to each of your culture heroes. Culture hero roles and responsibilities might include the following:

  • Squad Leader—manages the activities of the culture squad.

  • Business Meetings Lead—plans and coordinates all business meetings.

  • Recognition Lead—creates new forums to drive recognition.

  • Volunteer Leader—plans and coordinates all volunteer activities.

  • Activities Leader—makes sure fun activities are taking place each month.

  • Culture Ambassadors—short-term volunteers who assist leads with various activity planning.

Bring on the Fun

Once you’ve formed the squad, schedule an initial brainstorming session with the team. Create an agenda and invite your executive sponsor to kick-off the meeting. The agenda might include:

  • reviewing culture squad goals

  • a brainstorming and mind mapping activity

  • discussing the culture squad kick-off event

  • gaining squad alignment

  • discussing next steps.

As talent development professionals, you should have a variety of brainstorming activities in your trainer toolkit. Each culture hero should have an area they are specifically responsible for, but it’s all hands on deck when it comes to planning and coordinating fun. The goal of the brainstorming activity is to create a list of fun events that can be facilitated throughout the year. Also make sure to plan enough time to discuss a fun kick-off event.


Create a brand for the squad and facilitate fun marketing and communication campaigns. You could create fun “coming soon” poster boards to display in break rooms or send out a silly video introducing the squad to the company. The team could also plan and coordinate a Culture Week and schedule various events for each day, such as ice cream socials, breakfast with senior leaders, or dress down days.

Saving the Day

You’ve created a great plan, brought your team together, and kicked-off your events, now you need to make sure you keep the momentum going. Your squad leaders should create a shared calendar to manage the events planned for the year. For larger events, enlist a temporary team of culture ambassadors to assist with planning and coordinating.

They say “it takes a village,” but it’s worth the effort. When you bring a group of extremely talented people to become part of a culture driving initiative, a remarkable amount of energy and creativity will be released, and these culture heroes will champion performance, loyalty, and engagement across the organization. And when you have engaged employees, your company will experience numerous wins—people will be happy, the business will be happy, and your customers will be too.

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