Overcoming the Paradox: How to Get Started Building a Courageous Culture

How to Get Started Building a More Courageous Culture

Want to build more innovation into your culture, but don’t know where to start? Today we offer a few quick ways to get started.

1. Start small.

There’s no need to run out and tell your team, “We’re going to build a courageous culture!”

Start by being clear with your team about two key messages.

First that you really do want their ideas and contributions. That it’s not only safe to speak up, but that it’s expected.

And second, go ask your team for ideas in one specific area.

For example, “Can you give me one idea that would help make your life easier and more productive as you’re working from home?”

2. Answer their unspoken questions.

Any time you start working on culture, your team will have questions of their own. Work the answers into your communication, BEFORE they have to ask.

  1. What do you actually mean?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Can I trust you?
  4. What is expected of me?

Karin dives a bit deeper into these questions here.

3. Get started reading the book together.

We’ve made it easy to get started reading the book and sharing the tools with your team.

The first tracks section of Courageous Cultures makes it easy to get started on your courageous culture journey. These are tools, best practices, and approaches you can use to build a courageous culture within your team. We designed these tools to build on one another, so we encourage you to do them sequentially. We’re deliberate about inviting you to start small and build momentum as you go—picking a few key areas to work on before thinking more broadly about your entire organization.

We’ve also built a fillable PDF Executive Strategy Guide you can use to record your ideas as you use the tools and reflect on your progress.

4. Discuss what you’re learning.

In our Courageous Cultures Live-Online programs, we often use our Let’s Grow Leaders Learning Lab to invite participants to share their biggest takeaways from the book.

Here are a few that have come in recently.

On FOSU (Fear of Speaking Up)

  • There are lots of reasons why people have FOSU and the best way to eliminate their fears is to lead by example and create a safe environment for all ideas.
  • Clarity and curiosity!   I need to get over my FOSU.  I also enjoyed the honey crisp story!
  • My biggest take away so far is the psychology behind safe silence. Overestimating current risk and underestimating the future benefit really struck a chord. It makes it easier to understand why I fear speaking up but also allows me to break through that and speak up anyway.
  • Reading the descriptions of toxic cultures has let me release a huge weight of feeling I failed in past situations. It wasn’t just my fault that the problems existed; I was fighting against culture and managers not willing to change.

Balancing Clarity and Curiosity

  • The balance between clarity and curiosity is an ongoing effort and that we have to all be in together from the top down for it to be most effective.
  • I think my biggest take away is the importance of constant and consistent focus on clarity both from the individual and the team to ensure aligned success.
  • The balance of clarity and curiosity is one of the most important takeaways I got from the book. You need to have a healthy dose of both to foster a Courageous Culture. The “Curiosity Chapter” is one of my favorites in the book. There are a lot of great examples throughout the book of different businesses creating Courageous Cultures but the example about Laura the IT Vice President sitting down with the customer service rep is a great one. Laura thought everything was going great with the new systems they implemented because she hadn’t heard anything from her team. Turns out the system was failing their team in multiple ways but the team wasn’t speaking up and sharing their thoughts on the new system. This example really drove the point home for me that there are many great ideas that aren’t shared because people don’t think leadership wants their ideas, no one asks, they lack confidence, they lack the skills to share effectively, or they don’t think anything will happen. Creating a culture that allows employees to speak up is vital to professional growth and development not only for the employee but for the company as well. We do a good job of allowing all employees the chance to be “curious” but it’s important for our company to continue building clarity so that we can use both clarity and curiosity in harmony to grow and become more efficient.

How to Encourage Courage

  • That we need to foster an environment that encourages people to feel rewarded and respected when they speak up.
  • Realizing that thinking you create a culture of openness, but then learning that maybe it’s not an open environment. The need for psychological safeness takes more than an assumption.
  • The practical tools and techniques to make this happen.
  • The I.D.E.A. model
  • The importance of asking courageous questions.

The Importance of Tapping into Everyone’s Ideas

  • My biggest takeaway from the book is how important speaking up is. No matter the perceived importance of an issue, suggestion, or idea, it’s typically better to speak your mind rather than stay quiet. A lot of that comes down to the environment that upper management has created but if there is a less than ideal space for sharing, it’s better to bring that to people’s attention and attempt to foster a more open environment.
  • Glad that we’re all reading. Interested to hear how we can tailor some of these ideas to our company to keep improving in a high growth environment with constant change.
  • “Your concern matters. We need to care enough to speak the truth.” from page 66 and the story of George and the Humvee! In past jobs, I’ve been hesitant to speak up because I felt as though I wasn’t high up enough in the company to have a voice that mattered. My opinion does matter, and I should always speak my mind with my team!
  • All voices must be heard to make an organization function at it’s highest level.
  • Company culture is intentional. No matter our level in the organization it is our responsibility to take an active role in the culture. That means speaking up and not accepting the status quo as the only path forward.

Ready to Get Started?

Courageous Cultures is available in hardback, kindle, or audio (read by us).  Or, in quantity discounts from BookPal.

how to create great culture in a high turnover world

How to Build a Great Culture in a High Turnover World

What’s the true cost of high turnover? How do you stop the exodus of great talent? What if you can’t?

Just a few of the questions that keep coming up with almost every senior leader I speak with.

It’s tricky. You can’t control the choices. And, there are more choices than ever.

Low unemployment always makes it hard. But now the war for talent includes the gig economy and rising entrepreneurial opportunities.

What if High Turnover is the New Normal?

I spoke with Bill Ravenscroft, SVP at Adecco, one of the world’s largest staffing companies about some of the patterns he’s seeing, and what advice he has for employers.

Bill shared:

The world of work is changing rapidly.  With the convergence of the job market tipping in favor of the candidates, the millennial generation being ushered into the #1 spot as a percentage of our workforce, and the overall unemployment number reaching 50 year lows – companies have the ultimate challenge ahead in attracting the right talent. Going forward, forget about retention, focus on culture.

What we know is that the millennial and Gen z workforce will work for numerous employers over their professional career.  Gone are the days of 30 years with one company.  They value quality experiences that provide new skills and are not afraid of change.  What does this do to your team environment when your planned and unplanned attrition reaches 50% or more in a calendar year?  How do you keep your culture intact?  Do you have a re-skilling/up-skilling plan to attract and keep this demographic engaged?

So how do you build a great culture when high turnover is the new normal?

Recruit For Culture

I love Seth Godin’s definition of culture,”  People like us do things like this.

What are the “things like this,” that are most critical to your culture? And where do you find people with the capacity to behave like that?

In a high turnover world, it’s much easier to execute if you bring in people who are already aligned with your core values, with the capacity to flex and grow. When you’re interviewing, look for candidates with a track record of behaviors that align best with “your things like this,” balanced with a diversity of perspective and experiences.

Onboard Enthusiastically

Ensure your employees know what matters most from the first day. Expose them to the “why” behind your whats. 

Give them the scaffolding they need to feel included and valued. Consider pre-onboarding techniques to get them excited and grounded before day 1. Find ways to tap into their experiences and their best practices so they contribute immediately. The best way to build a great culture is one person at a time. Do everything you can to ensure your new hires feel seen and valued from day one.

Build Teams of Micro-Innovators and Problem Solvers

Your most courageous and creative prospective employees have no desire to sit in a cube and be told what to do. They want to connect, collaborate, and work on bigger problems. They want a voice. They want to think like an entrepreneur and to learn skills that prepare them to compete in that world.

Let them.

Many employers wait until an employee has been around a while before giving them opportunities to contribute at a more strategic level. Or, they give the employee just enough information to do their job, for fear that they’ll take information with them when they leave. So employees feel disconnected, and just keep their heads down and do what they’re told. The fear of high-turnover prevents transparency, which ironically drives turnover.


When you have high turn-over it’s easy to lose organizational memory. Build culture by encouraging storytelling. Communicate your strategic priorities and values more than you think is necessary. If it’s important, it’s worth communicating five times, five different ways.

Keep the Door Open

In a high turnover world, it might be time to revisit your approach to re-hires. You don’t want to rehire the troublemaker or the low performer. But if your rock star leaves for a better opportunity and wants to return a year later, chances are they’re even stronger now with new skills and perspective. Consider expanding your definition of loyalty and allow your best talent to continue to grow. Let them know you have their best interest at heart and that they’re welcome to return when the time is right.

Culture as a Competitive Advantage

I asked Bill about the pattern he’s seeing in what candidates want. He shared:

It is critical to do four things better than your competition:

  • Be known as a talent magnet.  Create a culture that attracts the best and brightest talent in the market;
  • Be known for using their skills on innovative projects and giving them new skills;
  • Be known for giving them the opportunity to move on quickly (inside or outside the company);
  • Be known for creating a lifelong conversation with this population so you can benefit from their experiences again and again.

Culture and innovation will be the currency the best talent will trade on.  Know how your culture & company will identify to the market and adjust accordingly.

Your turn: What advice do you have for building a great culture in a high turnover world?

See Also:

How Your Leadership Style Could Be Stifling Innovation and Problem-Solving at Your Company (Entrepreneur)

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level (Training Industry Magazine)

Culture Matters: Build Your Own Oasis (BYOO)

It’s tempting to blame your leadership problems on the bigger culture. You may even be tempted to let the “if onlys” creep it.

My Team Would Be

  • More engaged: “if only we paid our part-timers like Starbucks
  • Able to delight customers: “if only we had more lenient satisfaction policies like Zappos”
  • More creative: “If only I could give them 20% of their time to work on anything they want like Google.”
  • Absent less: “if only we let them where shorts and sing silly songs like Southwest.”

Create A Cultural Oasis

Learn about great cultures, but then get to work right where you are. You can create a cultural oasis within the most challenging contexts.

After reading Leading The Starbucks way, I called Joseph Michelli to get his view. I asked, what if you’re not the CEO, or even head of HR. Is it possible to create an oasis of great culture within the larger context. His response, a resounding YES!

“Take your small spot in the organization and make it great. Do the right thing despite the organization’s weak points. Your great results will make a difference. People will notice what works and seek to replicate it.”

Many of the principles that made Starbucks a great cultural and financial success will work for teams and departments as well no matter if you’re working with external or internal customers. Here’s a few:

  • Observe and interact with your perspective employee to determine whether they are eager, teachable, and authentically interested in others. Look beyond the normal interview and watch how they interact as a human being.
  • When front-line staff members are passionate about your products, they build interest and excitement on the part of your customers. Get your products in the hands of your people and let them play.
  • Rituals are powerful ways to create a common bond, inspire commitment and innovation. Ccreate unique rituals that make team members feel they are part of something magical.
  • Complaints are opportunities to both re-engage customers/employees and demonstrate integrity; strong leaders look for ways to encourage customers/employees to share their concerns (be a role model for seeking out constructive feedback from customers and employees).
  • Good leaders provide uplifting moments for those who uplift customers. Make a big deal over the right behaviors.
  • Seek to be in relationships (not transactions) with customers and employees– take a long-term view
  • Make work an experience.

Don’t wait for your world to change, change your world. Learn about great cultures, and then build your cultural oasis. Achieve results and your culture will be contagious.