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Cultivating Culture - Seedbed

Every organisation has a culture, a feel, an approach, an atmosphere and it can be quite apparent from the moment you walk in the door. It can be the difference between feeling welcome or unwelcome, the difference to getting things done efficiently or not and the difference between things succeeding or not.


Over the last few weeks the topic of ‘creating culture’ has come up in several areas I have been working in. So, what better response to help others than to have our monthly podcast and some blogs on this topic. It’s a key aspect of leadership, creating the culture that allows your vision to flourish. There is the famous quote attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker, that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and we do know that despite the best laid plans and strategy for an organisation, if you have not got the culture right, the plans can fail. So, what are the important aspects for creating a healthy culture that supports and flourishes the ethos and plans you have for your organisation?


Cultivating culture is like cultivating plants. I am no expert of plants, but my basic understanding is that you need


  • A good seedbed for growth

  • Strong roots

  • Stake to support the early growth

  • Regular and focused tendering to enhance growth


Seedbed for growth

I’m not a gardener, but I do know that if you plant a seed in poor quality spoil it will struggle to have healthy growth. It is the same with our organisations. If we want our vision and direction to flourish we need a cultural seed bed that can help it flourish. Daniel Coyle in his book, Culture Code, explains that the best organisational cultures are 1) safe;  2) have leaders that ‘fills people’s cup’; 3) there is alignment and 4) there is good chemistry and communication.

I think there are two main elements to help grow a healthy culture; Safety and Listening.


Safety seedbed

Maslow, in his 'hierachy of needs' diagram, has safety as an important element that needs to be in place for self actualisation (thinking & problem solving & improvement) to be present. He knew that when we feel safe we can engage in feedback and thinking. This theme of safety can be seen at the heart of thinking around improvement. Mary Myatt, in her book High Challenge, Low Threat, outlines that as humans we love to have challenge, but we dislike the unsafe nature of threat and that it sabotages learning and improvement. Matthew Syed in Black Box Thinking, which is the culture of continuous improvement, has at its heart redefining failure and having low threat so that we can feel safe enough to explore areas for improvement. Only when you have open and honest review can you get accurate improvement.


So, how do we create the safe space for people to explore things when they go wrong so that are can make effective improvements. Daniel Coyle in his book, Culture Code, explains that leaders can stimulate safer spaces by creating a ‘Vulnerability loop’. For example, when a leader shares their self-reflection on how they need to improve. When we start by saying, ‘I did not get that quite right, next time I think I will do X or Y’, then we let people know it is ok to step into the space of vulnerability because the leader has. As leaders, we perpetuate that when we protect the space of vulnerability. When we outline our expectations of a supportive response to failure, when we praise it when we see it. When we correct any criticism of failure, we establish the safety seedbed.


Listening culture

We all like to think that we listen to others. In fairness we are listening, but we are often listening to have a conversation and not listening to understand. Daniel Coyle talks about listening in equal measure in the Culture Code and Stephen Covey talks about ‘listening to understand’ in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. When we take time to truly understand someone’s position, we give them value and build relationship. It also allows us to consider our response rather than react. All of this perpetuates the safe space that effective cultures need. The growth of that has to be intentional and once again modelled by the leader. “If I have understood this correctly, you said X, Y & Z,” is a phrase I often use to summarise back what I have heard. This tells the person that you have listened, it gives them value and it helps you clarify that you have understood them correctly. This in turn reinforces the safety seedbed and also values the person.  We feel safe when we feel loved and valued and listened to.  


Creating safe, listening space in our organisation, enables us to get to know each other and helps us to create chemistry and understanding with one another. Just what you need to plant any vision or change for an organisation.


Can we help you? 

Our Leadership Lounge Podcast on the topic of Creating Culture, comes out on 29th March 2024 when we interview Nick Osborne who is the CEO of Maritime Academy Trust on this topic. Do tune in on any podcast provider.

We hope this blog has been helpful and if you would like some more targeted support to explore how to improve you culture, Everyday Leader is here to help you Maybe you would appreciate some training or coaching on how to improve your culture. Our clients find their coaching empowering, as we help them gain a full perspective and find a way forward.  If you have a challenge and you would like our support, then do get in contact with us. Give us a call on 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.  



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