Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 172 – Speak Up Culture & Leadership With Stephen “Shed” Shedletzky

Dear leaders, have you embraced speak-up culture at your business? Many have struggled, so this week I have a great newsletter to help you shape or reshape open culture.

So this week I have a great 5 questions answering why speak-up culture is essential and how to lead your people to embrace and encourage a communication culture within organisations of all sizes. 

I invited author Stephen Shedletzky aka “Shed” to answer 5 questions about his upcoming book aptly named Speak-Up Culture and the lessons he took from leading his own company, learnings from working alongside Simon Sinek and dedicating his career to driving change across businesses. 

Q. You have a new book hitting our shelves dedicated to “Speak-Up Culture”, what are the five things every leadership team should do to encourage and adopt a speak-up culture? 

First, I think a definition may be helpful. 

A speak-up culture is an environment in which people feel it is both psychologically safe and worth it to speak up, to share:

  • Ideas, even if they’re half-baked,
  • Feedback, to help one another grow together and our work improve.
  • Concerns, even if they’re unpopular or personal,
  • Disagreements, especially with those more senior to us in an organization, and
  • Mistakes, believing it will lead to improvement, not being repeatedly ignored or worse punished.

The book, “Speak-Up Culture: When Leaders Truly Listen, People Step Up,” shows you how creating an environment where people feel it’s both safe and worth it to speak up is the responsibility and the advantage of leaders at every level who want to be great at leading, and who want to create a better version of humanity while they do it. The bottom line, for everyone, is that organizations with speak-up cultures are safer, more innovative, more engaged, and better-performing than their peers. 

The book releases on October 3, 2023, and is available for wherever you get your books. 

Okay, now here are five things leadership teams can do to foster a speak-up culture:

  1. Value people’s voice and contributions.
  2. Encourage people to speak up.
  3. Reward people when they do speak up, especially when they bring up bad news or hard things to share.
  4. In our cultures we get the behavior we reward and the behavior we tolerate. Tolerating behavior is a passive form of rewarding it. Identify your values and the behaviors your leaders and people ought to exhibit to live into them. Recognize and reward the behavior you wish to see more of. Provide feedback, coaching and discipline, if necessary when folks behave outside the value set. If they continue to behave outside the value set, even if they are individually high performers, they’re behavior is likely toxic to the team and these folks should be offered to the competition. 
  5. Ensure you hear from a diverse set of voices and embrace difference. If the same folks are the ones speaking up, your speak-up culture could be much more inclusive and robust.

Q. Leaders go first. That’s what it means “to lead.” is one of your recent quotes – How do you recommend leaders to lead in troubling times? 

Admit what they know and don’t yet know, so long as it’s appropriate. Vulnerability isn’t sharing all the things all the time. That could simply be oversharing. Vulnerability is about context — it’s about sharing what is necessary, appropriate, and useful given a particular context and audience.

On the first day of my corporate career (September 7, 2009), 1,000 people were let go following “post-merger synergies.” I was the kid walking in as many more people were walking out, boxes in hands. I saw the direct impact that a lack of transparency in leaders had on not just folks’ productivity, but also their health and well-being. I distinctly remember my colleague, a 37-year veteran of the company, sitting in the cubicle across from mine frightened her pink-slip would arrive next. 

In this instance, I witnessed far more leaders in self-preservation mode rather than sharing what they could openly and fighting for their people.

I make the distinction between capital L Leaders and lowercase l leaders.

While Leaders may have the title, as my esteemed colleague Rich Diviney shared, “Leaders aren’t born. Leaders aren’t even made. Leaders are chosen based upon the way they behave.’ Leadership is a set of behaviors and when folks behave as such, regardless of if they hold a formal position of leadership or not, people follow. 
Those who lead hold influence, and they have a following. 
To lead means to show up to serve, to be consistent and authentic, to extend compassion and empathy, to be decisive and yet accountable, giving credit when things go well and taking responsibility when things don’t go well. 

Here is a flavour Shed’s new book and going deeper into culture ↓

Q. You worked alongside Simon Sinek; you facilitated a number of speeches and workshops for other businesses. Out of all of the great books and philosophies (The Infinite Game, Start With Why, Leaders Eat Last, Find Your Why and Together Is Better) which sticks most with you today and your teachings in your own company?

Definitely his most recent book, The Infinite Game (2019). I describe that book as Simon’s greatest hits album plus some very worthwhile bonus tracks. The book is brilliantly wrapped in game theory – building upon the work of the late Dr. James Carse and his work on Finite and Infinite Games — to show us that we’re all players in games that have ends (finite) and games that may have mile markers but no end (infinite). While many business leaders strive to “win” the game of business, beat the competition or be the best, they’re using finite language and thus a finite mindset in infinite games. 

Of all of Simon’s works, The Infinite Game is most robust and relevant today. In the five practices he covers (Just Cause, Trusting Teams, Worthy Rivals, Existential Flexibility and the Courage to Lead), he nicely highlights the importance of his previous works as well. 

Q. Driving change and innovation is hard within businesses, even when you are the most senior or have the most relevant title, how would you recommend business leaders do to drive positive change within their organizations for the rest of the year? 

Leaders must know that even if they’re driving the bus, everyone’s behavior on that bus is pivotal and paramount. Leaders ought to lead, not drive change. This proves a useful distinction between leaders and drivers. Leaders inspire. Drivers force or even coerce. Leaders engender followers. People do as drivers say out of fear or a perception of necessity. So, I do believe it’s important for leaders to lead, not drive. 

Leaders ought also to be aware of three gears that must all move to create meaningful and last change. These three gears, depicted below from the book (page 106 in chapter 7, Culture Matters) are Mindset, Actions and Systems. 

A leader’s mindset matters and impacts others. You cannot force someone to take on a new mindset. Transformation is an inside out job. But when people have some sort of experience that changes the way they think and view the world, it changes the way they lead and behave. We can change our world when we change our mind. 

Second, as if I haven’t belabored this point enough, our actions and behaviors matter, a lot! And, as it turns out, we can actually act our way to new thinking. L. David Marquet highlights an impressive story on this as he lead and empowered a crew of 150 sailors to turn the worst rated submarine in the entire 1999 US Navy fleet, the USS Santa Fe, from worst to first in one year. He had his sailors act into a feeling of pride by following a simple set of actions in greeting visitors aboard the Santa Fe. It’s brilliant. More on this directly from Marquet here.

Finally, systems matter… again, a lot as well. We need all three of these gears to work in unison. If one is off, the entire culture suffers. If you put a good person in a bad system or environment, the latter prevails every time. I call this Pickle Brine Theory. If you put a world-class cucumber in awful pickle brine, we, my friends, have an awful pickle that should never have been made. And we can’t blame the pickle. We must examine its brine – the environment it was in. Take an average pickle, put it in excellent brine and we have a delicious pickle, to whatever your taste. To complete the analogy, we all start out as unique cucumbers and the brine we’re in determines the pickle we become. That’s right, culture is like a pickle jar. There, I said it. 

Q. What do you predict the future of work looking like in three years’ time?  

Hate to be lame, I’m not a wild futurist that thinks the world is going to be fundamentally different in what human beings want and value. Sure, the context will always change, but these truths, I believe, will remain:

1)     Respect – We all wanted to be treated as the human beings we are, not as numbers or cogs in a wheel or machine. 

2)    Flexibility – We want to feel empower and trusted to do our work in a responsible way that integrates into our lives.  

3)    Compensation – We want to be compensated fairly and equally based upon the value of our work. 

Finally, there will be (or already is) a job called “AI Prompter.” Let’s have humans working the machine, and not the other way around… unless we truly are in The Matrix… Well that got real meta at the end here #trippy. 

The places of work – virtual, physical and hybrid– that offer flexibility, fair compensation, and who treat people as the human beings they are will prevail.

I think you’ll agree there is a tremendous amount of value here and brilliantly actionable ways to introduce or reintroduce speak-up culture into your business. If you’d like to connect to Shed, please do so on LinkedIn and definitely think about purchasing Speak Up Culture book for your leadership team. 

This week’s focus action is to introduce (capital L) Leadership and ensure speak-up culture is introduced and respected in Q4. 

Thanks, have a great week and I’ll land in your inbox again next week with another leaders letters.

Danny Denhard

» If you have missed the 5 questions series you can enjoy here

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 171 – Which Do You Need, A Refresh, A Reset, A Reboot Or A Restart?

Dear leaders, I have a little secret, away from the leaders newsletter and focus, I run a dedicated offering for Execs, Growth and Marketing leaders

When people ask me what I do, I used to say – I am a coach, consultant and advisor. 

When people ask me what that means I tweaked it recently to ask a question, “Which do you need, a refresh? A reset? A reboot? Or a restart?”  

It’s the 4 R’s you didn’t know you needed but everyone is in this phase. 

Over the last two decades, I have actually had a lot of jobs that aren’t on my LinkedIn and aren’t specifically broken down on my resume so here are a few stories to help to frame reset, refresh, restart, reboot. 

A Reset Story

When I worked as a Project Manager (in today’s world it would be a Product Manager releasing software) in finance I actually had to do a stint of work in commissions (in the finance team) when we were really struggling and my job in that period was to talk on the phone and over email with finance brokers on why their payments were late or missing. 

It was at the brutal end of customer service. I learnt a lot in that period with mortgage brokers coming to the office to find out where sometimes 100k was missing from payment runs. 

The owners didn’t know how to stop this business from going under in the middle of the major subprime mortgage crisis (2007 to 2010) but with a little hindsight, I believe we could have reset the business by removing more of the complexity of the processing department and helping our partners and brokers to remove numerous friction points and understanding how to reject applications more quickly. 

Hindsight is a wonder thing, isn’t it?  

A Refresh Story 

In another job I had to shift the focus of the sales packages from one discipline we were known for (there were white and black hat associations) to broadening out the offering with a super talented internal department lead who had to package up solutions on the fly (sometimes in the morning of big pitches) with hardly any time as a bolt-on to bigger pitches to offer a better more holistic Marketing solution. 

We built sales packages, built bespoke tools and hired an insanely talented person to come in and service clients, build reports and be the face of the new offering and we expanded that offering 4x that year. 

It worked really well and diversified the business. The refresh helped the company refresh the offering when pitching and have a broader influence on the marketing teams of the companies we were working with and being introduced to. 

A Reboot Story

There is something I don’t share often, I joined a company and for me, despite all of the interviews, great conversations smart people within the business and negotiations, it didn’t work out within a week. 

This company had a top-tier product (this was why I reached out to them directly), had high loyalty and was a utility (for many it was essential to check before work) and it had powerful sets of data across the globe (it was not quite a moat but close enough to to be excited of what we should do). 

Speaking to the founder and the leadership team I could see what was missing to kickstart the company’s new chapter and it was a reboot around brand side and stories connect to the product, a fresh product positioning and the business could make significant money with the right investment. 

The vision I had to reboot and drive ultra focus the business wasn’t shared by the founder and their vanity-based KPI wasn’t exactly what the brand needed, what the non-users craved and that’s not what the hundreds of thousands of daily active users would ever care about. 

Like I have said before big ideas rarely hit home, especially with founders, cofounders and CEOs as it means big shifts within the business and often has large time and business costs they just cannot commit to. 

A Restart Story 

In March 2020 I left a leadership role, I poured my heart and soul into the business and through five years of being connected to the company first as a consultant and then employed I knew in late 2019 after annual planning and discussions that I needed a full restart. 

I knew from the internal coaching and the work that gave me energy, I had to start my mission to fix the broken world of work, I knew companies weren’t placing the right emphasis on creating a company-wide strategy where people (company culture) and performance (company strategy) were rarely connected or aligned that this was the focus that businesses needed. 
I knew this was the restart I needed. 

What I didn’t think would be a two-year battle (thanks to the pandemic) was a long restart and many still are catching up to the concept of bringing people and performance closer together and understanding that the way it has always been done isn’t working in the 2020’s and those leading industries (away from big tech) are tackling this in more progressive ways… 

A Hard Reboot Story

A business I have been advising this year needed a hard reboot. 

Their business is large, they are a national favourite, however,  they were being chopped down piece by piece and broken down by numerous new competitors and their features were no longer unique or value-driving vs. cheaper or free options. 

My recommendation was: 

  • To revisit their annual strategy and rethink it from a fresh perspective 
  • To rethink how their product should work for existing but also for the new use cases appearing in the market and in products adjacent to them  
  • To understand the lite product hacking (when people use your product in a completely new way you never considered)  
  • To consider how they showed up with their pricing. 

We had a number of sessions and took a hard reboot approach, to go back to if they were a startup, review their own product be brutally honest and run a keep, kill, core and copy approach to the product and run a set of pricing surveys. 

Looking Back With Fresh Set Of Eyes

None of these was fun to me, it was incredibly hard work and took a number of painful conversations but one was an enlightening business lesson for me, one has helped me understand the lay of the land in businesses and agencies and has been a brilliant foundation to my career and another enabled me to be part of an IPO, numerous M&A deals and drive positive change for people I coach and the businesses I help to reshape. 

This week’s focus action is to down and think about how you are performing and consider which R phase are you in and what you need:  

  • A Refresh 
  • A Reset 
  • A Reboot 
  • A Restart

Have a great week ahead and if I can help you on your 4R journey happily email me directly

Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 170 – Leadership Lessons With Jo Bird

Dear leaders, how has the start of September gone? Are you ramping up for Q4 or are you in the middle of reviewing what has happened this year? 

This week I am continuing the 5 questions theme by interviewing Jo Bird. 

So who is Jo?

  • Jo is the creative lead at Lounge (the underwear brand) 
  • Powerful creative, being responsible for a number of powerful campaigns 
  • Conference speaker (has spoken at TEDx watch below)
  • Authentic Social Media Leader – Jo is one of my go-to examples of how leaders can show up authentically on social media, particularly on LinkedIn. 

» Please do connect with Jo on her website or on LinkedIn

The Q&A 

Q1. You share some incredible pieces of advice and insights with your connections and followers on LinkedIn, What’s the most valuable piece of advice you would give anyone progressing on their leadership journey? 

Ask yourself: ‘why do I want to be a leader?

A lot of people are chasing a job title so that they feel better about themselves. 
Or to gain respect. 
Or to challenge themselves in their own career. 
But the ‘me, me, me’ approach is a big fail at the first hurdle. It can also be incredibly disruptive to your team in the long-term. Trust me… I’ve had those bosses!

Being a great leader is about serving other people. It’s about standing in the shadows and applauding your team while they’re in the spotlight. It’s about empowering others to be their best selves. It’s about inspiring the team to reach a shared goal, together.

So, my advice would be to ask yourself why you want to do it. 

And then go from there.

Q2. The creative industry is likely going to experience big shifts with AI, what are the three pieces of advice you give fellow leaders on how to navigate the upcoming changes? 

  1. Be curious. You need to ask questions, do research and speak to industry professionals in order to make discoveries, learn and then subsequently inspire your team to also explore new technology, too.
  2. Be open-minded. Technology might not be your forte, or newness might feel uncomfortable, but great leaders do not stand still. 
  3. Be honest. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. AI will continue to develop at a rapid rate, which can feel overwhelming. If you are uncertain in any way, your team will appreciate your honesty.

Q3. You’ve given big conference talks, including a TEDX talk. Do you have three tips for other leaders who want to deliver brilliant presentations to their peers or at larger conferences? 

  1. Record yourself. Honestly. Self-awareness is the BEST tactic for developing as a speaker. Once you get over the ‘cringe’, you’ll start to notice your bad habits. ‘Ums’ and ‘ars’, awkward body language, lack of charisma. Only then can you start to practice.
  2. Practice! It’s true that preparation prevents p*ss poor performance! Do your research to make sure your presentation is air tight. And then rehearse in front of a mirror as many times as you can. When you feel like you can deliver the talk without looking at your notes, you’ll be so much more confident on stage.
  3. Treat it like a conversation. People think that being a presenter means being a robot or foghorn. It’s the opposite. The best, most captivating presenters are the ones who have built the courage to be themselves on stage. Like they’re speaking to a friend. To include their quirks, charisma and invite the audience in to their conversation.

Watch Jo’s Tedx video here

Q4. You’ve been a creative lead at both Lounge and Gymshark, both influential and culture-based brands, how do you inspire your teams when every campaign is expected to make a direct impact on the business? 

I have a few techniques that are working really well at the moment:

  1. Empowerment: I believe that creatives need to feel trusted, inspired and enabled to do their best work. For them, it can feel exhausting to constantly share their true, emotive, creative selves at work when pitching ideas. Especially if not all ideas are received well. So, they really need a leader who creates a safe space and continually champions them. Someone who ‘has their back.’
  2. Lead by example: I like to get my hands dirty, do great work and make it known to my team. If they are inspired by me – both inside and outside of the business – then they are more likely to respect my instructions as a leader.
  3. Communication: I am a high communicator. I am as transparent as I can be with my team. If there are business updates, if they have concerns, if they need more direction. I will speak to them as much as I can to make sure they feel supported and included. If they understand the bigger business goals, they are more likely to perform well.
  4. Humility: Working for rocketship brands means that the leaders can’t possibly know everything. The brands are growing at such a rapid rate, the leaders are learning and figuring things out all the time. So, I like to show a lot of humility. To leave ego at the door and encourage a ‘let’s learn this together’ attitude.

Q5. What’s the best piece of career advice you would give to C-suite leaders who don’t quite understand the power of creative (teams) or it’s just not landing right with them currently? 

I would quote Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar. In his book Creativity Inc he said: 

“You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”

Creatives are the most curious kind of employee. We’re the ones who like to turn left when everyone else turns right. We’re the ones who thrive in problems and strive to break patterns. 

I don’t think creatives should take over the boardroom (we’d spend all the money on games machines and slides in the office), but I 100% think creatives should be in the decision-making room.

We see the world differently. And that is what every business needs in order to stay relevant, stay inspiring and stay profitable.

(And if that didn’t work, I’d probably just hit them with a research study like: 70% of companies that engage with creativity had above-average total returns to shareholders – McKinsey & Company.)

I think you’ll agree Jo offered some incredible tips and you can apply them this week. 

This week’s focus action is to ensure you embrace your creativity and ensure you enable your team to integrate creativity into their work. 

Have a great week if you haven’t subscribed you will miss out on with the big question you need to answer: 
Which Do You Need, A Refresh, A Reset, A Reboot Or A Restart? 


Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 169 – Leadership Lessons & 5 Questions With Industry Leader & Coach Joe Scarboro

Dear leaders, this week I have a leader joining us who I can only describe as the nicest and smartest leader I have had the pleasure to get to know and have enjoyed a number of coffees with. 

Joe has worked across the C-Suite (holding both COO & CFO roles), been a successful founder who sold his company, led many others and now is coaching other C-Suite leaders. 

This week’s 5 questions are packed full of gems from Joe and I know you’ll get huge value from this.

Connect with Joe On LinkedIn

Joe Scarboro 5 Questions 

Q1/ You have a unique background where you’ve been a leader across the full spectrum, from Chair, COO, CFO and including being a founder. What are the three main leadership lessons you learned from operating across the C-suite? 

Broadly, these sit within the huge topic of “people”.

Having the right people on board is vital – whether that’s the one Co-Founder that you start with or your employees, board or management as you grow. It’s closely linked with purpose, as your values and how you recruit will define your people. Making people mistakes is costly though and this is amplified in the early stages and also when making senior hires at most stages. The downsides are mitigated as you grow, as bad hires have less of an impact, but I’d strongly advise against the temptation to get *someone* in a role sooner, rather than the right person in the role a little later. This is particularly common after a fundraise and during a stage of rapid growth. Creating a robust and well thought out hiring process will serve you well here.

The next tip would be on self awareness. As a leader, you need to be able understand your biases and tendencies in order to make better decisions. For example, acknowledging that you’re bad at delegation because “That’s not how I would do it” (and that makes you uncomfortable) allows you to begin to accept that someone else might not do it the same way, but will still likely get it done (caveated with the above of hiring the right people!). Self awareness needs constant attention though, it’s much easier said than done!

Lastly, I’d go with understanding when to listen to customers and when not to. There are a huge number of examples of successful companies on both sides of that argument, so it’s not as if one way is right and the other isn’t. Understanding how customers interact with your product or service and how they feel about it is generally always important, but if you’re doing something new (be that a totally new product concept, or a new feature) you may be better served by starting with your vision, with a clearly defined purpose for it and working from there.

Q2/ You are coaching across the C-suite, what are the current elements of leadership that are coming up in your coaching that could help leaders to improve their own organisations? 

I see systems thinking and second order effects often not always being given the consideration they need. Leaders deal with a number of issues at the same time, often under a lot of pressure and they operate to solve those issues quickly and effectively. In doing so, they can easily miss fully considering the impact of those decisions on a variety of other areas of their business and beyond. 

A classic challenge of this type is formulating sales comp. Solving for maximisation of incentive (and therefore sales) may seem the right way to go, but there are a lot of other considerations. 

  • What will the impact be on the non-sales team? 
  • Do you make it confidential so as to minimise the impact? 
  • Does making it confidential align with company values? 
  • Will it erode trust within the non-sales team? 
  • Are there mitigating measures you can put in place? 

If you make it transparent, how do you otherwise incentivise the non-sales team members? Of course, you can disappear into this type of thinking and emerge with a huge number of variables and no answers, so the key is to go to an appropriate level of depth for each decision. Having an appropriate heuristic for assessing decisions in this way really helps here, be that something simple like the important/urgent matrix, or something more specialised to the business.

Q3/ You recently took over hosting dinners for Tom Blomfield (the Monzo founder & GoCardless co-founder) from Series A to Series C, are there any themes that are coming that would help leaders understand how to handle today’s demands? 

The startup investing landscape has changed more so in the last twelve months than in the last decade. With the exception of certain areas (AI etc) attitudes to risk have changed, “available funds” are much less available and there’s a push towards profitability that just hasn’t existed for a long time.

This has fundamentally changed most businesses’ strategies. In some cases what was a 5+ year path to profitability now needs to be on a 2 year trajectory because there’s no guarantee that growth funds will be available.

That’s a lot of change to deal with in a short space of time. It’s given rise to a number of themes around hiring, product pricing, unit economics and a lot more besides. Whilst these attitudes are likely to change again, it’s not looking to be any time soon, so these are big issues that need strong consideration from founders and boards.

Q4/ Apart from the mass move to AI, are there any other important moves that you feel all companies will be making in the future? 

I find it hard to apply generic thinking to companies, as every one I have worked in has been different, you need to dig into the nuance and context in order to be able to provide appropriate advice. AI for example, should *everyone* be implementing AI? No. I don’t believe they should. Should everyone be looking at how it impacts their business? Absolutely, but that also goes for a number of areas. It’s more about remembering to lift your head up and consider the fundamentals and macro environment rather than being swept along by the latest hype or making specific moves because “everyone else” is.

One trend that I hope I see come in, is the removal of shareholder value being the de facto, priority number one of a company. There’s already a groundswell of companies changing their charters or otherwise operating with a wider pool of considerations, but I believe we’ll see an expansion of statutory reporting to encompass an element of this too. It’s been happening for years already (see corporate ESG reporting), but I believe there’s a strong chance this thinking will be brought into other areas of legislation too (employment law, consumer protection etc).

Q5/ What was your favourite leadership moment of your career?

There have been many, but most involve helping people. 

As a leadership team in one of my companies, we felt a particular employee wasn’t learning and growing to their potential, but we had no resources internally to help. We were a small company and whilst they were junior in their position, there was no one with more experience than them. We approached them and suggested it was time they moved to a different company, they resisted, but we pushed them forward (and out!). We believed that we were doing the right thing and thankfully we turned out to be right. The employee left, had no trouble finding a new role (including a 50% salary increase) and their career has since taken off!

This was packed full of insight and actionable tips, I am sure you will have a lot to think about this week.

So this week’s focus item is to re-read Joe’s brilliant answers and see where you can apply his lessons. 

Have a great week and I will land in your inbox next Monday,


Danny Denhard

Read the other 5 questions about leadership interviews 

Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 168 – The 5 Simple Questions To Ask This Week To Improve Prioritisation & Performance

Ask Better Questions & More Often To Improve Work & Performance

Dear leaders, this week I am introducing 5 questions to clarify situations and remove ambiguity.  

These questions are basically my frequently asked questions from the last three months, the questions come from recent conversations, coaching sessions and helping leaders with personal development questions from expert calls.  

  1. For when meetings and performance aren’t flowing:
    Ask: What context am I/are we missing? 
    Why: Simple questions and stopping poor meetings to gain realignment are critical 
  2. For when you need deeper feedback loops:
    Ask: What is your analysis here?
    Why: It is critical it is not first opinions or thoughts. The analysis framing allows people to dive into issues and create compelling arguments for both sides. 
  3. For when ruthless prioritisation is required:
    Ask: If we were to stop this activity today what negative impact would it have? 
    Why: Most people default to more and have a bias for doing more, being ruthless and clearly calling out tasks will reduce strain and cognitive load on teams. 
  4. For when to understand output at a greater level:
    Ask: what is x’s performance like over the last nine months? 
    Why: Results are often too binary. Performance allows you to understand the wider impact and uncover the deeper actions and decisions taken. 
  5. For when to understand performance and productivity: 
    Ask: What expectations do you have for this project? And how are you prioritising your tasks within this project? 
    Why: When performance is struggling and when team members feel stretched autopilot kicks in and many team members just start, very often understanding the required steps are missed out and prioritises these tasks are overlooked and underappreciated. 

This week’s focus action is to ask these 5 questions when required and move your business forward with smarter questions and reduce the bias for more and have an eye for prioritised (aka smarter) work. 

Have a good week and land in your inbox next week,

Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 167 – The Comprehensive Guide & Ranking Of Company Culture Activities

Dear leaders, are you considering your options to improve your company culture? I hope so. 

Why? I am often asked by CEOs, leadership teams and founders about how to invest in company culture and what are the best activities to improve culture. 

Each business is in its own phase and each business has specific characters who will have their say on what’s best, particularly the internal influencers

What is important is to balance these factors out and select the best most inclusive event. 

Company Culture Activities  

I bet you have asked your fellow leadership team members what you should do. 

I bet you gathered a wide-ranging list of events, and you might now be considering a getaway, an army assault course or even starting a computer game league or sorry startups – a ping pong tournament? 

I have worked since 16 years old and over the last 25 years, I have experienced 16 different attempts to connect and improve company culture. 

I have ranked them below with a score out of 5, a cost implication and a breakdown of the score. 

If you want to expand or have a detailed look at the list, request full access here

My top 5 recommendations to improve company culture would be to consider the following: 

  1. Problem Solving Day – a revamp on the hack day, a way that the whole business can come together and select existing problems, bring the team closer together and develop new tech, and different approaches and release a new working practice collectively. Work out whether you remove the leadership team from this as it can bias the problems solved or how problems are shaped  
  2. Hack Day (Aka Hackathons) – a staple in most businesses, a hack day can be a great way for devs to demonstrate their skills and their broader ways of thinking and collaborate with many they just don’t have a chance to work directly with. It’s key to encouraging or constructing teams who rarely work together to work together. It is key to ensure you remove the boredom from hack days as it can be a lot of start-stop without real structure and deadlines throughout the day  
  3. Sports Day / Sports Team – sports can divide people (sporty vs non-sporty) but in my experience, it is the closest thing to connecting people quickly and easily across the ability scale. Here in the UK rounders (like softball), giant egg and spoon, sack race, and tug of war is the go-to, I have been part of a company that hired an athletes track and we took part in an Olympics-style event it was brilliantly done and everyone stepped up for the event. The key to winning this is keeping everything light-hearted and encouraging people to give it a go and making the in-between about connection, not competition!  
  4. Company Retreat / Holiday – you either love or hate retreats, I have had some brilliant company-wide holidays/vacations/retreats and I have had some of the worst professional experiences at leadership retreats. I found company-wide holidays work particularly well for those companies from 10-200 and then effectiveness can scale down quickly from 500 as it is logistically so challenging and you need people to force people to interact and speak to complete strangers. Leadership retreats aren’t treats they are hard work and it’s important to onboard new members of the leadership team to the way you do offsites or retreats and then gather rounds of feedback to improve retreats.  
  5. Cooking Class – I am a cook (not quite a Masterchef) and I have always enjoyed cooking classes, from pasta making to pizza making to Indian cooking classes, they bring people together, everyone tends to get a job and then there is healthy competition and connections. For those who just don’t or can’t (or won’t) cook if you want them to engage create a judging panel or drinks classes to encourage making the drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks) and make for those cooking etc. 

All company culture activities and days have a series of costs, from internal costs (like the number of hours missed of work) to large external costs of hiring event spaces and paying for external facilitators. 

Tip: Always have a dedicated budget in mind before the events are created rather than react to the potentially large quotes you will likely receive. 

This week’s focus item is to review the full list and then create a series of activities or events to connect and galvanise the company employees in line for Q4 and the associated ramp-up. 

Have a great week ahead,


Danny Denhard

Need help with company culture? Get in touch, just hit reply or email me directly >> danny @ 

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 166 – The No Passengers Principle

It Is Time To Remove The Passengers From Your Business

Dear leaders, if I said no passengers within your team what would I be referring to? 

A passenger (to me) is someone who always sits back, does just about enough and doesn’t strive to push their work forward or importantly improve the company’s status quo.

Passengers are in every business, in almost every team and are often hidden away by a lack of people management (managers this is on you, if you catch the early onset of passengers you can address it, if stays after six months it’s hard to reset) performers or by performances from their colleagues. 

Having Potential & Good Is Different To A Passenger 

I believe you can have brilliant performers who can take their foot off the gas from time to time and can have a lot on to keep up their high standards, however, allowing long-term mediocrity is going to have a hugely negative impact. 

Middle managers have a hard job and motivating passengers can be almost impossible. It’s critical in management and leadership you know who’s adding value and whos detracting from it. This is where you can proactively score performance and output and then address them regularly. 

Blending quant and qual with real work examples is critical to influencing, improving performance or replacing passengers.  

Passenger True Impact 

Passengers are often hindering your department’s performance, they are coasting, and passengers often rub off in the wrong way and then bring on others for their ride and it can then spill over into other members of the team. Remember team members mimic behaviours especially hard and high performers who feel they are being taken advantage of. 

Why A No-Passenger Principle? 

Principles are what people can get behind, and agree on and they can lead behaviours. 

Long-time readers will know I am a huge supporter of principles, I have: 

Principles Over Pointers 

When you look to create your principles or look at revisiting your principles (it’s annual planning for most larger companies in August), you should question what you really need and what makes the business better and why no passengers are critical to reset expectations and drive the business forward at every given opportunity.  

Principles are written up, formalised, put up in the office and shared so frequently the whole company should be able to repeat on request without any effort or hesitation. Being a pointer isn’t enough and this is when HR will likely have to be called in to help when principles are there to support managers and colleagues. 

This week’s focus action is to consider adding a no-passenger principle to your business and being clear on what behaviours work within your business and which behaviours will not be accepted. 

Have a great week ahead,


Danny Denhard

Read the last 3 weeks newsletters

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 165 – Energy Control

Dear leaders, we are entering into the period of the year when we need a real break, and many counting down to holiday/vacation. 

We are hitting the breaking point and a rest is what you need and the doctor likely ordered. 

In my coaching and workshops, I have numerous recommendations and a theme of recommendations I supply towards summer and into the autumn/fall session:  

  • Mid-year burnout 
  • How to control your energy 
  • How to leverage knowing your energy levels 
  • Understanding how your department members gain energy and lose energy 
  • How your team leads are motivated 
  • And where everyone’s energy levels are 

Here is how I break energy down further 

Ramp Up For Important Meetings 

  • I am a person who is full of energy in the morning but mid-afternoon I have a harder time doing my best work, I attempt to book important meetings earlier in the day and restrict my caffeine intake to coincide with the most important meetings 
  • I have been known to get hangary, which means I need to eat fairly regularly and need energy from the food to help me post lunch. Knowing which foods provide you energy and which reduce energy, it will be important to improving your output and being present in meetings and when making important decisions 
  • I ramp up with caffeine, I ramp up with preparation for the meetings and often I will walk to bring up the heart rate and help you to think more clearly. 

Energy Matching 

  • As a coach you are either supposed to bring the energy and take levels higher or match the person you are coaching. Very often I will match coaching clients’ energy to ensure it aligns with how they feel and then raise if they need to take part in more specific skill drills 
  • Many video-based meetings can feel like a slog, there is a lot written about zoom fatigue and mirror anxiety but a small shift and delay can feel like a lot, it is important to call this out and match the energy or call it out to try and ensure everyone is equally invested (hard I know but in trust-based organisations, this is not a too far removed)
  • Walk-and-talk meetings are often a great way to energy match and equal the conversation. Walk-and-talk meetings are often an easy way to remove any tension and matching strides is a simple way to energy match 

Energy Zapping 

  • We have all been in meetings or when working in the office and someone’s negative demeanour or negative attitude wipes out the team’s energy, it is important to learn what zaps your energy and who can zap your energy.
  • Being able to talk to your colleague with negative energy can be challenging, if you can discuss this, please do directly, if not attempt to help them recognise they might not be helping the collective (seek HR help required
  • When you are sat in a bad meeting you can feel frustrated and see your energy level deplete, MRS aka meeting recovery syndrome is an essential area which many are unaware of and do not control by scoring and reflecting on the quality of the meeting. Ensure poor meetings and frustrating meetings are addressed and you personally make personal reviews and notes on meetings that create MRS. This is where I recommend conducting a calendar auditand being ruthless in owning your time and energy levels.  

Energy Supplying 

  • Do you have someone within your team (first team or your own department) that whenever you chat or work with them – they boost your energy, they make you feel like you need to take action or can improve something just by spending a short amount of time with them? I can name five on the spot and often wish I could collaborate with them when low on energy. These energy givers are invaluable collaborators and ensuring you match their energy or give back is critical to a high-functioning and performing team 
  • As mentioned earlier, food and drink are vital areas of giving you energy. There are a number of ways you can incorporate this into meetings and working sessions, by providing healthy snacks (allergies to be remembered) and getting the opportunity to add a buffer to get a drink and/or snack (even a FIKA break) to manage levels and give you the energy 
  • Often with away days and strategic getaways you will actively see people’s energy drop and when they hit caffeine walls, most would then dive into the sugary treats and then have a large lunch, this would mean a real crash or slump after lunchtime. There are typically drinks and dinner in the evening the following day will be a write-off for many. It is important you understand this cycle and supply better snacks (fuel), book in breaks (powering through isn’t a smart default) and stop people just sitting around a boardroom table or a hotel’s basement conference room and getting out and stretching your legs, reduce cognitive boredom and improve your oxygen flow 
  • When you set the agendas and running orders you should consider what decisions are made and when and how the sessions can complement energy sources 
  • I used to hate looking at the agenda and knowing my annual strategy presentation or my business lines financial request was after 4 pm. This was knowing everyone would have low energy, and low attention and knowing that the most important decisions are made when people are more switched on and energy levels are higher (despite many late-night emails and chats most decisions are made in the workday apart from in crisis)

This week’s focus action is to understand how to control your energy, how to make other people aware of this and where you can tweak your offsites and workshops to be more energy aware. 

Have a great week and have great energy levels, 


Danny Denhard 

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 164 – Discover How to Make Company-Wide Feedback Proactive and Effective Now!

Dear leaders, how frequently do you ask for and gather company-wide feedback? My guess is quarterly and it’s often just another task to complete.

As a department lead, you should look for feedback loops as often as possible. 


  • One to ones 
  • Skip meetings 
  • Team feedback 
  • Department feedback 
  • QBRs & Quarterly planning with the team 
  • Annual department planning 
  • BAR & AAR (before action reviews and after action reviews)
  • Your manager’s feedback (yes even CEOs have bosses) 

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to make feedback actionable and take steps to improve. For most, you are never given a framework or a tool to keep track of and improve on the essential items of feedback from quarterly check-ins, your annual review and real-time feedback from colleagues. 

There is a free feedback model that I like broken down into: 

  • Advice 
  • Compliment 
  • Criticism 
  • Suggestion 

This framework helps you list out all feedback and decide if you need to take action or something you should take note of and evolve your approach over time. 

Battling Realtime Team & Department Feedback 

I bet you have also been in meetings where your team or department becomes under fire and the feedback is mostly lost or unactionable as it’s not recorded or part of a political game from other department leads. This isn’t helping the company, its venting and its hindering progress without formal examples.

Actionable Hint:

  • Always ask for this feedback in writing and ask for two to three examples of when the team or department have acted like this otherwise it’s likely reactionary to results or not getting the desired outcome. 
  • Create a centralised document and start attacking each piece of feedback (not opinion) and show how you are proactively leading from the front. This makes it clear to the team/department and company how seriously you are taking feedback.

Official tools like Workday struggle with helping department leads to know what to work on and if there are core learning and skills gaps. 

This is where there is a big jump (and no bridge) between individual feedback, departmental and company-wide feedback. Very often they are connected and you should learn by sharing knowledge and actions taken.

Company-Wide Feedback

When you’re a company you look for official feedback from all the company employees. 

Most ask a series of questions and the answers are anonymous. 

Some companies select an eNPS solution and have quant and qual feedback. 

There are a few issues that arise: 

  • A low number of responses – requires numerous chases from HR (and becomes disheartening)
  • Sending a survey to all staff members doesn’t work from an HR perspective. It is not personal to the recipient, it seems low importance and takes a long time versus finishing all of your important tasks.  Always being put off.
    Hint: Seeding and then nudging from the department lead is a better approach and easier to scale than mass sends from HR or the founder
  • There is a fundamental lack of trust in the “anonymity” of the surveys (having led software selection the majority are anonymous and aren’t actually sophisticated enough to offer this
  • eNPS often can confuse the company and without real management and insight it can seem daunting or unrealistic to make any change from a low score to a better score let alone a bigger score  
  • Most who complete the survey don’t trust the answers will be actioned and don’t see the steps (or the discussion) behind the feedback sessions and how it’s handled 

Most often these feedback surveys do not highlight the real issues or areas to celebrate in the company culture, it is often performance-based feedback and without more organic and frequent feedback companies will struggle to make a difference for the company or the people. 

Google Weekly Move 

I recently read that Google has moved from annual feedback to weekly feedback (surveying) and it makes me wonder, why and what is it actually achieving.

Is it a leadership initiative or is it an HR play or a PR response to the ongoing changes and headlines Google are receiving? 

I can’t see how this will add value and make any feedback actionable without deep connections and department (Product) to department (Marketing), company (Android) to company (Google Ads). 

With thousands of employees at different phases of being unhappy making changes will take a long time and the low-cost low effort will most likely always be selected to roll out. 

How to improve weekly feedback? I often suggest a company culture or culture community manager to help to shape and collaborate in company culture – the key is not to be reporting to HR and definitely not to be seen playing the game. Trust is critical.

Other Companies Feedback Cadence

I asked 50 C-suite leaders what their company-wide cadence was and the breakdown was:

  • Weekly – 2% 
  • Monthly – 44% 
  • Quarterly – 18% 
  • Annually – 36% 

When I asked those who replied with monthly as their answer, this changed from annually over the last 18 months, this shows there is either progress or reacting to the demands of hybrid work and forced return to the office. 

Feedback is a critical part of management and leadership, that’s obvious, however, what is less obvious is how we review data sources and ask for better feedback loops. 

  • When performance is high you will want to understand the drivers and what and how people are feeling 
  • When performance is down or a big event has taken place and there is a negative sentiment in the air – what can we learn from this 
  • When a core member of the team leaves or when mass layoffs happen what insights and nuggets do we have to garner from the company to improve the business holistically 

This week’s focus action is: Ask yourself and the leadership team:

  • How frequently do you ask for feedback?
  • How do you show the results and identity which areas you will be working on and the areas of concern you will be taking a longer-term view on?
  • How do we step up and ask for feedback formally in the good times and then in the low times and how are we proactive in showing we (the leadership team) want to improve the business and not just ask for more? 

This won’t improve everything in the near term but in the mid to long term, this approach is going to reshape how feedback is seen, heard and actioned within your business.

Have a great week and if you have feedback let me know below.


Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letters 163 – 3 Priceless Quotes

The 3 Quotes I Often Think Of & Revisit When Creating Strategy & Hosting Workshops

Dear Leaders, with it being the last stretch in July it means two things:
(1) seasonality (for most) it is the summer slow down
(2) it’s prep and away day season with most mid and large businesses likely running their annual planning cycle and then re-forecast cycle (basically the hardest cycle we go through as leaders).

(» If you are going through AOP or LRP here are a number of free resources)

In most of my workshop sessions, I have a stack of quotes to share, most business owners look for well-known CEOs when sharing quotes, it’s an inspiration and ego play.

The go-to quote that is used by most consultants is (which admittedly I love and use myself) –

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”
— Henry Ford.

Here are my three favourite quotes I share, they come from:

  • Google co-founder Larry Page suggests they are competing with competitors by serving them organically
  • Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg’s understanding of why his competitors own the wider eco-system is a significant strategic risk
  • Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos reminds us that tactics are temporary, strategy is ten years aka the longest term for Amazon, unlikely for most others.

“On the Internet, competition is one click away.”
— Larry Page (Google Co-Founder)

Why is it important?

  • Google traditionally serves their customers by serving organic listings and ads against core keywords searched and users’ behaviours on & across their products
  • Google’s approach was one of the smartest moves in business history, to make money from other people’s data, crawl their sites, then rank and importantly create a moat around this by serving intent-based ads (remember their motto – don’t be evil) and knowing switching costs will limit us moving from good free services and better paid for services (like Google Suite)
  • And then charging their competitors to appear in their search results aka the click away (for years we have called it downstream) in mind. What I call —
    Make Money From Your Data Moat With Your Competition Click In Mind. If you ask any CMO or CFO, the one thing they truly hate paying for is brand terms and others bidding on them…

“Our biggest competitor by far is iMessage,” 

“In important countries like the U.S. where the iPhone is strong, Apple bundles iMessage as a default texting app and it’s still ahead,”— Mark Zuckerberg (Meta Founder)

Why is this important?

  • Knowing your enemy (competitor) is critical in business, most struggle to not fixate on their competitor’s activities. Meta and Apple are still in business battles over the App Stores, associated charges, mass personalised data collection via product usage, the open vs closed web.
    Tim Cook Vs Mark Zuckerberg is going to be decades-long battle
  • One of the smart moves reducing their friction was their acquisition of WhatsApp (in 2014) and Instagram (in 2012) – it still couldn’t easily compete with iMessage groups and sharing in private, and how content from their properties was to show up was out of their control
  • Facebook knew via their famous Growth Department (including its current CMO Alex Schultz and famed VC Chamath Palihapitiya and many others holding influential roles) they needed to hit external mass and share across the primary messaging app iMessage to drive more adoption and to serve better ads you’ll click and buy from
  • Facebook’s big issue is still others own their destiny with the sharing of Meta content (think Facebook, Instagram, Threads posts) across other networks and platforms and their app downloads are being controlled by app stores and search engine algorithms this is costly, particularly across their vast user groups
  • What Facebook did was to unbundle Facebook and push ahead with messaging across all of their platforms and focus on the different jobs to be done on each network. Facebook still struggles with the dominance of iMessage in the US market

Long-Term Thinking & Planning Wins

“Be strategically patient, tactically impatient.”

— Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder)

Why is this important?

  • Amazon has been the long-term first company for the last two decades, with Jeff Bezos telling investors repeatedly about their long-term approach since 2003 and hinting their investors should share the same view
  • Amazon are constantly sticking to their ten-year plan and smartly tactically they have to be flexible and on rare occasions, reactive (Covid and mass industry changes). Amazon has accelerated their tactics and rolled out Prime Day in response to competitors and had record years since its launch
  • Jeff Bezos also famously said “Your Margin Is My Opportunity” when quizzed on their low-price prime pillar. This has made Amazon the trusted place of convenience
  • Andy Jassy (the current CEO) has helped to evolve the company into a more efficient business aka day 2 while doubling down on customer-centric what I dub prime expectations. Amazon adding to their famous flywheel has been critical to customer retention and signing up net new customers.

Quotes in isolation can be great in workshops and conference talks, however, the context behind the quotes and insights that are shared are vitally important and can drive change within businesses by understanding the thought processes.

This week’s focus action is to understand how you can think about competition and think differently, consider how you can over-serve your customer by adding mutually beneficial services and understand how partnering with competitors with services they can’t refuse to use (Amazon also does this (alongside Google & Facebook) with ads and with their logistical offerings.

Have a great week ahead!


Danny Denhard

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