As regular readers will know, one of the key components of our Success Through People Model© is “Equipping Others”: ensuring that those engaged in your business have the tools, resources, information and capabilities necessary to succeed in their role.

Of course, this need to be adequately equipped for success also extends to those in leadership roles, so I always find it valuable to step away from the day-to-day operations of the business to build and reinforce my own capabilities. One such opportunity came my way recently, when I was able to attend the 24th annual Culture and Leadership Conference, presented by Human Synergistics Australia.

It was a great opportunity to reflect on the importance of culture and leadership in driving business success, and also draw inspiration from those leaders sharing their experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here are just some of the highlights, insights and tips I took away from the presentations (speaker details and links to presentations are included at the end of the article):

  • Be prepared for the long game. Reorienting the culture of an organisation is a minimum 2 year commitment. Ensure key people are invested in it and prepared to do the hard yards.
  • Communicate and consider branding relevant initiatives. While real culture transformation happens through on-ground action rather than marketing hype, it’s critical that you communicate effectively and enable people at all levels in the business to clearly see the linkages between deliberate actions, culture shifts and business outcomes. Occasionally and effectively reinforcing the end goal and reporting progress will generate momentum, engagement and further drive the change you seek.
  • Keep it simple. While proven tools such as the Human Synergistics Organisation Culture Inventory are great for gathering real data about current and desired cultures, you can start the ball rolling with simple questions: “What words would you use to describe our current culture”, and “Now describe the culture that you think will ensure engagement and our future success.”
  • Be explicit about the behaviours that you expect of others that will drive the desired culture, and also be clear about behaviours that you won’t tolerate (that is, those behaviours that will stifle or work against achievement of the desired culture).
  • Ensure the full leadership team is engaged and that they are consistently modelling the behaviours. Be prepared to take the hard decisions if need be (sometimes people need to get off the bus!).
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of leadership. Culture and leadership are intimately connected. Constructive cultures cannot emerge, thrive and survive without constructive leadership. Provide opportunities for leaders at all levels to learn and grow in ways that support the culture you aspire to. Establish peer support mechanisms among the leaders, be prepared to share and demonstrate a bit of your own vulnerability, and support others to do the same.
  • Acknowledge and “own” your impact as a leader in the business. “If you’re not the most influential person in the business, who is?”.
  • Acknowledge the value of values. Clearly articulate the values and attributes of the desired culture, then “hardwire” them into the fabric of the business (eg. ensure they are part of your recruitment and selection process, performance plans and remuneration/benefit strategies).
  • Have an evidence base to work from. It’s not just about “feeling good” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), it’s about achieving better business outcomes across the board: profitability, productivity, quality, engagement etc…
  • It’s everybody’s issue. If you see culture as solely an HR issue, you will limit what you can do.” (Shaun McCarthy). Culture is a whole-of-business issue that needs engagement and commitment across and throughout the business/organisation over a sustained period.

These are just some of the highlights, but hopefully they are enough of a taster to get you thinking about the importance of culture and leadership to business success.

The above insights were drawn from this years’ speakers who generously and candidly spoke of their own experiences:

  • Amanda Bollans – Chief People Officer, NOVA Entertainment
  • Tracey Slatter – Managing Director, Barwon Water
  • Sarah McCann-Bartlett – CEO & Managing Director, Australian HR Institute
  • Dan Hunter – Chief Executive Officer, Business NSW
  • Shane Ellison – On behalf of Auckland Transport
  • Shaun McCarthy – Chair of Human Synergistics Australia & New Zealand

Videos with full presentations are available here. If you are strapped for time, I’d particularly recommend presentations by Dan Hunter and Tracey Slatter.

So how about a takeaway for you?

To borrow from one of the presenters, Tracey Slatter, I’d encourage you to spend a few moments now asking yourself “What words describe the culture of my business?”. Then perhaps take another few moments to consider “What attributes do we need to support our future success?”.


Quick reminder that if you’re an SME business owner or manager, our Success Through People Model© takes the culture, leadership and engagement learnings from the academics and the ’’big players”, and applies it to smaller businesses, so that you too can have sustainable, profitable businesses that are also great places to work.