Saturday, January 16, 2021

Executive Education

Why Leaders Need To Listen To Create A Thriving Culture

Ross Judd

Humility. It’s the essential ingredient in building a great culture. Why? Because your people are your culture, and as a result they know the answers to whatever question you might ask about the culture, including what is needed to build a great culture. And in tough times like now, your culture is more important than ever.

Insane Mistakes

Has this ever happened to you?

You are asked to fill in a survey about your culture. As you complete the survey you have some clear messages you want to communicate to your leaders but the survey doesn’t ask the right questions. Then your HR Department, or “People and Culture,” roll out the results, tell you how you feel, and tell you the culture needs to change. They initiate a “culture change” program that is run by some external, or their internal, “culture expert.”

How are you feeling about that program? How are you feeling generally about the culture of the organisation?

Imposing a “culture change” on people and mandating culture is one of the biggest mistakes being made because it gets people offside and discourages their contribution.


If you want to build a great culture you need an approach that will encourage contribution and engagement. You need an approach that is founded in humility.

Someone that is humble listens and learns. They are not arrogant enough to believe they have all the answers, particularly about something like culture, so they ask for input. In the process they engage people and inspire contribution.

It’s worth remembering that everyone in your organisation, even your most jaded and cynical employee, wants to be part of a great culture. If you come across resistance to the idea of creating a strong and positive culture it’s not because they don’t want that kind of culture, it’s because they don’t believe you will deliver it. Their beliefs are confirmed if you start telling them about their culture and what they need because this will convince them that you don’t understand them and have no idea what is “really going on”.

Everyone in your organisation also believes they are an expert on culture. They will have their own examples, stories, observations, and opinions so if you want to create a great culture you will need to listen because they want share their experience with you. In their view this is the only way to build a great culture.

Simple steps 

1.) Start by aligning people with the purpose of the organisation. Don’t even talk about culture. Answer questions like why do we exist, and how do we add value to society?

Your purpose must be more than making money. It needs to connect people with something deeper that provides meaning for their work.

This is a conversation people want to have. Deloitte’s 2019 “Global Human Capital Trends” report found that employees want a career, purpose, and meaning from their work.

2.) Once you have aligned people with a compelling purpose start talking about the culture you need to deliver it. The beauty of this approach is that it starts from a compelling and engaging premise, instead of the suggestion that “something is wrong” inherent in the “culture change” approach.

The other advantage is that it builds engagement. People commit to what they create, so if you are humble enough to ask them what culture is needed they will move mountains to create that culture.

Keep the definition as simple as you can. One word. The idea is to generate conversations, not a definition, so make it a word that will get people talking.

3.) Now it’s time to assess your current culture. Talk with people and listen to their stories. If you are humble enough to listen people will open up and tell you everything you need to know about the current culture.

Avoid surveys as people are suspicious of the statistics they create, so listen to their opinions and stories instead. This will give much deeper insight into the culture.

4.) Plan a transformation. Now that you understand your purpose, desired and current culture you can plan the steps to bridge the gap. Your people will have great ideas so once again, be humble and listen to them.


Creating a great culture should be a simple and enjoyable process, mainly because your people are busting to help. So have the humility to listen and engage them and you can create something extraordinary.

Written by Ross Judd.
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Ross Judd
Ross Judd is a cultural engagement expert, creator of the A.D.A.P.T. process, and founder of Team Focus International Pty Ltd. Ross works with leaders to engage their workforce in the creation of a fantastic culture that will deliver strong business outcomes. He is the Author of Cultural Insanity: And the roadmap to Great Organisational Culture ($13.95). Ross Judd is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.