Why Culture Change Has To Be Led From the Top

Home / blog / Why Culture Change Has To Be Led From the Top

Just over six weeks ago our Prime Minister in Australia changed and it became clear that things would be different. No longer would there be a ‘bare fisted’ leader always aggressively spoiling for a fight on anything and everything; instead Malcolm Turnbull set in train the need for things to change, the need for a different approach, and so doing he sowed the seeds for culture to change.

It has been interesting to watch this approach take shape and in so doing we can see some core elements that underpin culture change being applied.

  • First and foremost if there was any doubt that culture has to be led from the top, Prime Minister Turnbull dispelled them. Right from the outset when he announced his intention to challenge for the leadership his whole approach in this speech was different, it was a speech from a leader :
    • Aggressive adversarial language was replaced with constructive language.
    • He set a different tone with his choice of language. Language moved from I, you, they, to our, we and us.
    • A clear “why” he felt that he had to mount the challenge was offered that was largely free from political ‘mumbo jumbo’.
  • Since mounting the successful challenge he has continued to sow further seeds to encourage cultural change at a number of different levels:
    • As a leader he displays optimism, continuing to build, share and reinforce a vivid picture and belief of where Australia can add value as an ‘innovation nation’.
    • When he communicates he engages with his audience. In various conversations I have had with a range of people a number have commented that they have a sense when he speaks, he is speaking with them.
    • He is not tiptoeing around or avoiding issues. He has been critical of his own government’s past performance while at the same time he has not aggressively dumped on everything opposition parties have proposed.
    • He is less oppositional and not as black and white; he is comfortable with more grey which provides more flexibility and an opportunity to reappraise and reposition policy.
    • He is listening and seeking greater understanding presumably to be able to allow for better quality decisions and to produce better quality outcomes.
    • He invested time to get “the right people on the bus” and move aside those people whom he had questions about their capability to change.
    • As a leader he understands the difference between being aggressive and assertive. The clearest demonstration of this was the way he handled the attempt by the opposition to play the “tall poppy” card in relation to his wealth. He assertively shut that debate down in 48 hours.

In six weeks negativity, power, oppositional and adversarial behaviour has been replaced by constructive, achievement focused collaborative behaviour, and evidence suggests people are responding. Consumer sentiment and business confidence continues to grow, popular and business press are carrying more and positive stories about innovation and entrepreneurial ventures, and as preferred Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull leads by 46%.

It is interesting what can be achieved when a leader, supported by a committed team, decides to bring about cultural change by leading by example and behaving counter to the prevailing culture – something for all of us as leaders to consider.

Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.