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Building Better Cultures

Hosted by Scott McInnes, founder of Inspiring Change, we talk to guests about how really good internal comms, engagement and leadership all contribute to 'Building Better Cultures'. We tend to shy away from theory and focus more on really practical advice, great stories and best-practice.

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Dec 6, 2021

The world is no longer linear, and yet old command-and-control management structures persist. In this episode of Building Better Cultures, international management consultant Gill Kernick shares powerful insights about why it is that C-Suite executives sometimes lack the leadership skills necessary to support healthy workplace cultures. Internal communications, policies and best intentions go only so far when it comes to shifting paradigms.

Gill offers thoughts on why it is that some companies get stuck, their leadership mired in old-school thinking. Agile workplace structures give members of the team at all levels of the enterprise an opportunity to speak up and the confidence that their voices will actually be heard. Gill explains why it’s so critically important to create an environment grounded in authentic care and respect.  It unleashes great performances and sets up a safe landing when – as inevitability happens – failures occur.

There are concrete measures that leaders can take to empower employees to communicate now – rather than later when it’s very possibly too late. Invite bad news. Look for red flags. When leaders speak honestly and with compassion, they provide the entire workplace culture permission to act with courage and conviction.  

Among the suggestions Gill has for enlightened leaders: 

  • Ask proactively for the bad news, then welcome it! 
  • Assign and rotate the role of designated challenger among various team members.
  • Make mistakes a source of learning, not blame; opportunity, not failure.
  • Tell the truth. If something is amiss, just own it – with grace and an attitude that encourages others facing risks or failures of their own.  

Key Takeaways:  

  • Gill shares a little of her background, including a lifelong fascination (starting in her formative years in South Africa) with human potential and the influence organisations can bring to bear in the contexts of equity and justice in the workplace and beyond. 
  • Catastrophic events often share a single commonality: Concerns were raised and dismissed. Liabilities tend to go completely unnoticed because they don’t fit into traditional, outmoded paradigms in an increasingly complex world  
  • Intelligence from the front lines is critically important. Enlightened leaders understand that the healthiest workplace cultures remove barriers and free up the flow of communication. 
  • Organisational cultures depend on fresh thinking and the safety to foster systemic change. But before change can happen, there has to be an intentional approach that focuses not on piecemeal fixes but rather a sustained platform to support meaningful evolution. 
  • Planks in the Platform: Critical ingredients to effecting change. 
  • A willingness to engage with dissonance (and outright resistance) and dig into the gaps that no amount of documentation or policy-making can fill or reorder. 
  • Internal communications that directly address the changes and micro-changes that need to occur and hold space for those charged with executing them. 
  • Disbelief will persist as long as systemic change remains an abstraction (i.e. trainings, handbooks) rather than an actual, measurable human behavior that exists in real time. 
  • Leaders must demonstrate that they value feedback, that all voices are welcome and that mechanisms have been established to support them. 
  • Risk-taking has to be balanced against unintended consequences, taking into account the many variables – not least low probability events with high-consequence implications. It’s a multidisciplinary pursuit that requires data analysis and feedback from all stakeholders. 
  • Diversity is the single biggest protection against bias, but workplace cultures have some distance to go before integrating not just the look of diversity but the actual voices and points of view represented by those from different backgrounds, orientations and experiences. 
  • Time is often the enemy of complex, sustained cultural change. Meaningful paradigm shifts require intention, grappling in gray areas and the dedication of ongoing resources. 
  • Averting negative consequences – catastrophic or more run of the mill – requires a workplace culture in which team members can bring their whole selves to the table. Innovative thinking, as well, demands a true openness and safe space for challenge. 
  •  Leaders have it within their power to set the stage for healthy communication and collaboration, through tactics such as: 
    • Ask proactively for the bad news, then welcome it! 
    • Assign and rotate the role of designated challenger among various team members. 
    • Make mistakes a source of learning, not blame; opportunity, not failure. 
    • Tell the truth. If something is amiss, just own it – with grace and an attitude that encourages others facing risks or failures of their own. 
  • Gill’s Top Tip: The single most important thing organisations can do to capture and apply the lessons of failures would be to search for bad news. Challenge the green and embrace the red! 

About Gill: 

Gill is a Strategic Consultant with a global track record of producing results through Development, Intellectual Property Design and C-Suite Culture Change Strategy Delivery. A sought-after author and speaker specialising in Safety, Culture and Leadership, she is an agile, strategic thinker with the ability to operate at all levels of an organisation and across diverse cultures. Gill partners with major Multi-National Corporations to create sustainable change, focusing on building leadership and management capabilities in complex, high-risk environments.  

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