Practical insights for leaders

How to Create a Culture of Candour

The task of culture-building is never done. It is always work in progress. In my work with founders and leaders on culture and values initiatives, two things stand out to me; 1) a company’s ‘values on the walls’ do not always equate to the ‘values in the halls’, and 2) senior leaders can easily become out of touch with employees who don’t directly report to them. Surfacing difficult issues and delivering hard messages to your boss, or boss’s boss, is fraught with danger. That is why it’s imperative for leaders to explicitly encourage – and model – upward challenge and the sharing of negative feedback. More below. 

Olivia Meyrick, Founder & Executive Coach, Cadence


VIDEO: Wharton Professors: Mean Reviews (4 mins)

Most people hate to be challenged and to receive negative feedback.  However, research by Adam Grant emphasises that both challenge and criticism are necessary for a great culture to thrive.  In this hilarious (and excruciating?!) video, Wharton Professors read negative feedback they’ve received from students. When leaders openly model that they can take criticism, the message to employees is that hard issues can be raised. Employees are also more likely to be open about their own shortcomings.



In this short video, I share ideas on how to create a culture of candour in your organisation. Let’s be clear; challenging upward is an unnatural act. However, if you study the most consistently successful organisations on the planet (the likes of Pixar and the US navy seals) you will note that they create a climate where it is safe – indeed expected – to speak up. We all have a threshold for voicing our opinions, and it is the leader’s responsibility to push that threshold down to a lower level than what is natural.