Leaders need to foster a culture of curiosity to encourage employees to learn and grow

3 minute read

Creating a great culture pays dividends, as start-up food company Sweetgreen demonstrates

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10Eighty helps individuals to maximise their potential and helps organisations to harness that potential. We are experts in developing leadership capability and helping organisations increase employee engagement

Michael Moran



Live culture

I’m a big fan of Jacob Morgan’s Future of Work podcast series, he interviews entrepreneurs and business leaders who have some really creative and energising ideas. His interview with Jonathan Neman of Sweetgreen, a start-up food company, rang a lot of bells for me, a positive peal of them in fact. Sweetgreen has a very strong company culture that focuses on passion and purpose.

This is a touchstone for me, my whole career has been about my passion for helping people maximise their potential and I believe everyone should have job satisfaction and a successful career. At 10Eighty our motto is 'work hard, do good and along the way have fun'. I believe leaders need to foster a culture of curiosity and encourage employees to learn and grow as part of their working life.

Interestingly Neman defines Sweetgreen’s culture as: happy, humble, hardworking, curious and coachable. That picks up some other enthusiasms of my own, I am keen proponent of lifelong learning and the value of curiosity. I want to work with people who are keen to learn, want to find things out and how things work, eager to try new things, not afraid to ask questions and take a risk sometimes; people who will pick up the ball and run with it.

I believe that what leaders need to do is to create a meaningful employee experience for their people. This is not just about employee engagement but also about creating a great experience for customers that goes above and beyond. Sweetgreen are on a mission – working for them is not just a job they want their team to understand that there is a greater purpose both from a company and community perspective.

I’m a big sports fan, as regular readers will know, I think business can learn a lot about team building and motivation from some elite coaches. I was happy to hear that at Sweetgreen they view the work as a team sport. Leadership and good management are important but in no organisation can one person do it alone. Work is cross functional so collaboration and knowledge sharing are key. I believe it’s important to hire for attitude, look for people who will share the credit and have positive intent.

Another thing that struck a chord for me was the assertion that humility leads to wanting to hire people that are better than you. Hire smart people and then let them get on with it; micro-management doesn’t bring out the best in anyone. Empowerment and autonomy make this work, good people don’t want to be told what to do, they want a goal and then to be trusted to give it their best shot.

Live your values

At 10Eighty we emphasise the value of curiosity and the pursuit of learning for its own sake. Neman thinks that velocity of learning is what matters, the right attitude to problem-solving. We want to work with people who are curious, coachable and committed to personal development. That means it’s important to have real conversations about goals, exceeding the day job, development work and stretch assignments.

Neman’s advice for leaders:

  1. Connect to your mission
  2. Don’t just put values up on the wall, make them real action items for everyone on the team
  3. Allow your team to co-build the culture together
  4. Understand that your culture will evolve over time

Creating a great culture is, simply, the right thing to do. It’s not HR fuzzy feel-good thinking, because employee engagement makes a difference to productivity and profits. Ensuring your organisation is a great place to work is the right thing to do for the team, it makes the workforce happy, makes the customers happier and makes more money, it’s a win-win-win situation.

Published on The People Space 7 May 2020

At 10Eighty we emphasise the value of curiosity and the pursuit of learning for its own sake

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