HR Professionals Forum: How Leaders Build Powerful Cultures to Drive Growth

Culture is the ‘way we do things in an organisation’ and can drive growth. Leaders understand this. The stumbling block for most leaders is how to use culture to grow their organisation. This was the key takeout presented at our HR Professionals Forum on how leaders build powerful cultures for growth.

The forum discussion was based on a global research conversation facilitated by Within People, in partnership with Accelerate Cape Town, to explore how clarity, belief and confidence helps leaders build winning cultures. Almost 60 interviews were held with CEOs and directors across SA, UK, US and Asia. Myths that block leaders from using culture to drive growth were identified in the research:

  • Culture is just about having a fun place to work, not what makes us successful.
  • Culture can’t be measured. It’s soft and fluffy and doesn’t deliver tangible results.
  • Culture is used to make people work harder and be busier, as it encourages them to go the extra mile.
  • Culture shouldn’t be captured as then it loses its magic.

The core barrier for many leaders is FEAR, which can extend to many scenarios, from fear of loss of business, to losing control, to having to deal with people who don’t fit a culture. So how can leaders use culture to grow their organisation? There were seven clear research learnings from leaders across the world, who have successfully used culture to grow.

  • Culture starts with authentic leaders: Leaders define their culture through their behaviours. Leaders can only really embody a culture if it is aligned to their personal values & beliefs. When leaders show up authentically, trust and respect are built, a strong point made in the session. TIP: Personal alignment with the company’s values means leaders can show up to them naturally and transparently.
  • Involving people in co-creating culture creates shared ownership and accountability: Clarifying purpose and values as a team builds cohesion around shared beliefs and motivations for their work and the people they serve. Co-creation builds ownership and belonging. You can teach skills, you can’t teach culture. TIP: Investing the time to co-create culture builds ownership and belonging.
  • Personal stories build understanding and meaning: Giving people the opportunity to interpret the company’s purpose and values for themselves helps them understand what is personally relevant about the culture. This can create space for differences and for people to understand each other better. People may not want to share personal stories because they feel exposed, create safe spaces where they can be heard and share honestly. TIP: Values are a powerful tool to build awareness in diverse environments.
  • Connection to culture comes through experiences: Experiences help people connect emotionally with culture and gain a deeper and more memorable understanding. Rituals shaped around your purpose and values help keep them alive. TIP: Creating deliberate ways for people to experience your culture builds depth of understanding and connection.
  • Strong cultures ask for commitment: Getting people to define what your purpose and values mean to them asks for commitment, starting at the top. Leaders who deal with those who don’t live the culture drive real change. When there is too much definition around culture, you run the risk of overwhelming people. This can mean that even people who want to commit struggle to connect to what to commit to. Keep it simple. TIP: When defining your values ensure they are a framework for accountability.
  • Culture aligns to a vision of success: Your culture needs to be inextricably linked to the goal you want to achieve. This means getting clear on what drives performance, and how you create the value for success. TIP: Get clear on what you need to be great at to succeed.
  • The work is never done: Living your culture is constant. You can never put it aside to deal with a crisis or particular situation. In fact, these moments are opportunities to bring a culture to life, either building or eroding belief. TIP: As the leader, use every opportunity – including a crisis – to point to how culture is a guide.


How Culture Helps You Grow – A Global Leadership Conversation – Kim Hawke, Within People


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