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How to launch a Speak Up Culture


One of the most important outcomes from the Hayne Royal Commission was a mandate on culture. Organisations need environments in which people feel comfortable to share their concerns and to blow the whistle on misconduct. In this week’s blog, we explain the vital part psychological safety plays in shaping such a culture, and the leadership behaviours required to elicit it.

In line with our latest blog, we have just launched a new program related to developing psychological safety, inclusive leadership and a Speak Up Culture. Read more here.  

A special thank you and congratulations to all those who have submitted their applications for our  20:20 Leadership Excellence Awards. Nominations closed on 31st March  with Finalists being announced on 18th April 2019.

Warm regards
Virginia Mansell
Founding Partner

How to launch a Speak Up Culture

It was early morning on January 28, 1986 at Cape Canaveral in Florida at the pre-launch meeting of the Space Shuttle Challenger. One of the lead engineers was wrestling with a nagging concern. That morning it was unexpectedly cold, and in those low air temperatures he feared that one of the fuel seals, called an “O-Ring” might fail. But with so much riding on keeping to the launch timetable, he chose not to speak up.

Later that morning, the Space Shuttle lifted off powerfully from the launch pad. The solid rocket boosters spewed the familiar plumes of smoke as the Shuttle rose purposefully skywards. Then, seventy-three seconds into its flight, the shuttle experienced a catastrophic failure and, to the horror of a global audience of millions, it blew apart, killing all seven crew members.

Soon afterwards investigators determined exactly what had happened.

One of the O-Rings had failed.

The Space Shuttle disaster is a dramatic example of the consequences of not having a ‘Speak Up’ culture.

Another well documented example is the case of Korean Airlines, which, for a time, had an alarmingly high level of accidents. The airline was able to quickly reverse the trend when it discovered the source of the problem: Second Officers were unwilling to speak up and challenge risky cockpit decisions made by Captains—because of hierarchy.

More recent examples can be found much closer to home.

Take the Hayne Royal Commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry. One of the most disconcerting revelations that emerged was that bad corporate behaviour and misconduct were widely known about long before they were made public. There are numerous examples — both on and off the record — of people who wanted to speak up but didn’t feel ‘safe’ to do so.

Now, one of the most important questions resonating in Boards and Executive Teams is “How do we make sure we have a Speak Up Culture?”

Defining a Speak Up Culture

A Speak Up culture defines a workplace where people feel welcome and included, free to express their opinions, and confident that their ideas will be heard. On the face of it, there’s a simple formula for creating a positive speak up culture: ensure the benefit of speaking up outweighs the risk:

In reality, as we have seen with NASA engineers, co-pilots in  potential crash scenarios, and individuals observing corrupt or inappropriate practices in the financial services industries — people don’t always feel that it is safe to speak up. In many cases, the perceived risk of speaking up far outweighs the benefits. In practice, the formula for speaking up must include the vital component of psychological safety:

Psychological safety diminishes the perception of risk at an emotional level. The greater the psychological safety, the less the perceived risk of ‘speaking up’. The challenge for leaders wanting to create a ‘speak up’ culture is not so much to highlight the reasons to speak up, but to make it safe for their people to do so. The starting point is to measure the current ‘speak up’ culture. We do that through a simple diagnostic survey in which we ask a leader’s direct reports and stakeholders a series of statements which they are asked to rate, such as “I am encouraged to say what I think, even if it is unpopular.” The collective results of the survey provide the data along four dimensions:

 1.  Risk: How does a leader and their team respond to real or perceived mistakes?

 2. Team Dynamic: What is the impact of speaking up on the team dynamic?

 3. Inclusion: To what extent does a team member feel included in the team?

 4. Trust: To what extent does a team member feel they are supported?

The developmental journey begins by helping leaders to understand the environment they create for their teams. Measurement itself though is not enough. Leaders also need to develop the skillsets and mindsets to make the structural, process and behavioural changes needed to build a more robust ‘Speak up culture’.

Learn more about our approach to developing psychological safety, inclusive leadership and a Speak Up Culture


About the Authors:

Mehul Joshi, Partner Mehul Joshi is a former award-winning BBC journalist and is now a sought-after consultant and executive coach in leadership development and employee engagement, with career spanning three decades and four continents.  




Dr. Gabrielle Ostrognay, Executive Coach and Behavioural Analyst Gabby Ostrognay is one of Australia’s foremost experts in evidence-based behavioural assessments. She is a former HR executive and holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne in Psychology.



What’s On

What’s your lasting impression? Being able to enter a boardroom or management meeting with presence and impact AND leave a positive lasting impression can be natural to some… but for many this is a skill they need to practise and refine. Body language, eye contact, voice tone, speech and verbal patterns, along with confidence levels, all play a part in how impactful you can be.

If you are a leader wanting to ensure impact, influence, and effective negotiation skills, then we have the learning solution for you. Facilitated by the former Head of Directing at the National Institute for Dramatic Art (NIDA), Peter Kingston.

Peter empowers you to recognise your roadblocks to success and enhances your influencing skills.

SYDNEY:  Executive Presence and Impact Workshop,   Sydney – 20th June 2019
– Your opportunity for one-on-one focus of your needs and development of your impact.
Register here

BRISBANE: Executive Presence and Impact Masterclass,    Brisbane – 21st August 2019
– Deep dive into your presence and impact needs, while not only learning from the best, but from your peers and their experiences also.
Register here  

Stand out from the crowd and take charge of your leadership journey.

Look no further than our Perspectives on Leadership for Women Program.

Designed to help female senior leaders to align who they are with how they lead, this program has a practical and hands-on approach and focuses on personal presence and communication; resilience; change and complexity; and finding mentors and sponsors. Run across two separate one-day workshops, and supported by two individual coaching sessions, this program helps drive your leadership enablement.

Brisbane – Perspectives on Leadership for Women –   25 October & 29 November

What’s trending in leadership?

Alan Mulally shares how creating a Speak Up culture at Ford, helped the organisation survive the GFC.


Amy Edmonson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, coined the term ‘Psychological Safety’, ‘a climate in which people are comfortable being and expressing themselves’, crucial in a Speak Up culture. Watch Amy deliver her TEDx talk Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace.


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