KPMG CEO Paul Knopp: ‘The Best Cultures Have Leaders Who Listen’

Paul Knopp, CEO of KPMG US
In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Thought Leader Don Yaeger sits down with KPMG U.S. Chair and CEO Paul Knopp to discuss how leaders of organizations large and small can create work cultures that encourage diversity, equity and inclusion.

How can leaders make sure their teammates feel included and part of their organization’s culture?

“You have to be a fantastic listener, work hard to make sure that people are heard and you have to try to engage people in a way that everybody recognizes that everyone has something to contribute in the team environment and the success of the organization,” says KPMG U.S. CEO Paul Knopp. “In my 39 years at KPMG, I’ve been part of many different teams. Inclusion is really hard work because you do have to do something as a leader to make sure the culture is built around inclusion. You have to get inclusivity right to be successful when it comes to a diversity, equity and inclusion journey.”

Knopp has carried this out by asking intentional questions of his Black and Hispanic employees that address issues of inclusion. “Do you feel like you belong here?” “Do you feel like your experience in our organization is the same as what our white colleagues are experiencing?” By asking these kinds of questions, KPMG is learning whether employees feel safe and comfortable. Initiatives are built based on the answers to those questions.

“Accelerate 2025” is one of those KPMG initiatives that, Knopp says, “was born out of the need to strategically change the way we look at diversity, equity and inclusion.” The initiative, focused on increasing underrepresented talent at the firm, features three overlapping “pillars,” which involve “getting [to KPMG], succeeding here and leading here.” It’s a large and even “aspirational” undertaking for sure–KPMG has more than 36,000 partners and professionals across the United States—but one the firm has already made considerable strides toward achieving.

Under Knopp’s leadership, for example, KPMG has been consistently recognized on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and DiversityInc’s top 50 companies for diversity lists. He was also named to Glassdoor’s list of Top CEOs determined by employee approval ratings.

Listeners to the podcast will learn how KPMG uses DEI principles and practices in its strategic planning, especially with talent acquisition. Tips and takeaways include:

5:00 –  How integrity, excellence  and courage work together.

7:00  – How to build a values component into your assessment framework.

13:00 – Why KPMG gave its 35,000 teammates a day off for public service.

16:00 – Two diversity, equity and inclusion questions to ask your teammates.

22:00 – How to take a group of individuals and make them a team.

Knopp says that the leader’s job is not only to foster positive change in an organization but to model the kind of confident, trusting mindset that makes change possible. “Worrying is not a productive way to bring about change,” he noted. “The leader’s role is to be the calm in the middle of adversity.”

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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