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:
- Value people’s voice and contributions.
- Encourage people to speak up.
- Reward people when they do speak up, especially when they bring up bad news or hard things to share.
- 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.
- 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.
» If you have missed the 5 questions series you can enjoy here