Culture Speaker Contest 2023

Tobias Sturesson – How to Overcome Your Company’s Greatest Culture Challenges

Tobias Sturesson is an advocate for healthy cultures and the co-founder of Heart Management. He took part in the Speaker Contest Final on the 10th of May 2023, and here are the key takeaways from his speech on “How to Overcome Your Company’s Greatest Culture Challenges”!

You can also watch the keynote here:

Tobias kicked off his keynote with a moving personal story about how he grew up in a Christian community that became a religious cult with a destructive culture. As he witnessed the terrible consequences for his family and himself, he wondered how an organization that seemed to be driven by a noble mission could turn into something so toxic. “This question has haunted and driven me as I left that community and dedicated my professional life to become an advocate for a healthy culture,” he said.

Tobias stated that toxic cultures breed distrust, division, disengagement, and dysfunction. Cultures like this in the workplace can destroy a company’s values and wreck employees’ lives. In his keynote, Tobias discussed how to overcome these challenges and build a healthy and resilient culture where employees thrive, and the company can focus on its mission and strategy.

What many leaders don’t realize is that cultures are built through habit. When you notice a problem, don’t blame it on individual “bad apples” or use your company’s good values, brand, or history to shield yourself from criticism. There is never just one bad apple – there are other apples who are protecting the rotten one.

“Culture is always co-created. There was someone who knew but didn’t say anything. Blaming bad apples will lead us to seek scapegoats but overlook issues within our culture.”

The other common mistake leaders make is trying to solve a long-term issue with a short-term solution. Once you notice there is something wrong with your company’s culture, don’t just host a “culture event” or redefine your values. “Research shows that 85% of these culture initiatives fail miserably.” Tobias used physical health as an example. “Physical health does not come by short initiatives, but by healthy habits. And the same is true for cultural health.”

The secret to successfully rebuilding your culture for the better is through habit. And especially through the four culture-building leadership habits which Tobias introduced us to in his speech.

Lead with courageous humility
Every leader will make a mistake at some point. When this happens, admit your mistake and apologize. Acknowledging your mistakes helps to rebuild trust.

Make your values matter
Values should not just be empty words. Make sure your values are clear, meaningful, celebrated, and enforced throughout the organization.

Align culture signals
It’s not enough to say you value something if the actions are not aligned. Make sure that what you say is valued is also incentivized. Your cultural signals should be aligned with your values.

Elevate concerns & dilemmas
“Are you aware of how your silence might silence others?” Leaders overestimate their approachability. Make sure your team really feels that they can come to you with issues and concerns.

These are the four habits Tobias advises every leader to start following in order to change their work culture for the better and for the healthier.

On the 10th of May at 18:00 EEST in Helsinki, we got to experience an inspiring and exhilarating evening with five incredible Speaker Contest 2023 finalists. All of them gave impeccable speeches, however, our jury and audience could only choose one winner. Maryna Saprykina, a Ukrainian sustainability consultant, won the competition with her keynote “Sustainability in the Times of War.” We will be hearing from her again next September at Oslo, Amsterdam, and Nordic Business Forum.

But right now, we have four other amazing speeches to learn from! You can find the summaries and videos from our other Speaker Contest finalists here:

Pep Rosenfeld – Leadership Lessons From 20 Years of Business Events

Ritu G. Mehrish – Leader’s Block – The Opposite of Potential

Thijs Launspach – What We Get Wrong About Stress



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