Creating a Winning Culture


A month ago, we concluded a global poll which comprised about 20% C-suite executives, 20% vice-presidents and 60% office professionals with a sample size of just over 1000 respondents. In it we polled them on what they believed to be the five most under-rated leadership skills. So here were the five skills we identified as being rather underrated:

Negotiating skills

Managing expectations and performance

Creating a winning culture at work

Winning buy-in

Strategy implementation

So guess which leadership skill topped the poll easily, winning more than half (53%)?

If you guessed Creating a Winning Culture – you were right. It was followed by, at a distant second place with 22%, Managing Expectations and Performance”.

We talk about culture in the workplace all the time. So what is it that makes it so powerfully effective? There are essentially three reasons why creating a culture that works for your organisation is critical. And I’ll share what I believe makes a winning culture in a typical office context

1) Cultures Drive Behaviours:

Contrary to popular belief, we become influenced by a peer group far more than we would like to think. Cialdini’s work at Arizona University shows that far from being the individual we think we are, we are heavily influenced by what others think and do. This boils down to our innate need to be accepted into a ‘tribe’ or, in this instance, workplace. Having a culture that rewards the right behaviours, or approves it is a powerful motivator. No one likes to be the odd one out.  Cultures also can motivate us to work harder, especially when everyone else is doing it. A long-standing joke shared by my clients at Accenture is that when a member of the team is seen leaving the office at 7pm, he or she is often met with the comment, “ So, having an early day, are we?”. The Accenture culture upholds excellence and hard work.

2) It’s free.

Yes, like it or not, most cultures that are allowed to develop organically cost no direct fee to the company, but can create immensely profitable attitudes that spinoff from the culture. This could be a culture of work excellence, a culture of punctuality. No costly on boarding or contrived incentives plan can be as powerful as creating the right kind of culture in the workplace. My good friend and fellow professional speaker Ron Kaufman was best known as being an expert in customer service many years ago. However, as he elevated his expertise and know-how in this area, his company created its proprietary Up! Your Service methodology. It is now creating impact in the area of service culture leadership, a subtle but massively different kind of solution. While customer service training only gets you so far in terms of skills and mindset; creating a culture that makes people want to go the extra mile in servicing their peers, colleagues and customers is a mighty powerful thing.

3) You rarely have to police a culture

Once set up right, there’s no need for massive guidelines, irksome office rules and constant reminders to let a culture do its work. You just need to live the expected behaviours, and reinforce the key culture messages to keep the culture ticking along. Like a large stone ball, which takes a while to get moving, once it does, the amount of energy to keep it going will be minimal

So, how do you get around creating a winning culture?

A culture is based on a combination of shared values, supportive behaviours and a range of outcomes defined by the group embracing the said culture.  A ‘winning’ culture is one, which aims to beat the competition, champion it’s product, cause and members, and attract more like-minded people to it ranks.

1)   Assess: Look around your workplace and ask yourself if there’s a definitive workplace culture. If you don’t see one, that could actually be good news, as you may be able to start one. But if you don’t start one, one may develop anyway, and it may be one you won’t like. Assess your group’s goals, values and specific observable behaviours that support the team reaching it’s goal with a set of values you can be comfortable with. A highly driven sales team, for example, my be tempted to champion less than ethical practices, turn a blind eye to corrupting influences in order to reach their goals. Certainly, it’s a ‘winning’ team mindset. But do they also embrace values that work for everyone?

2) Identify:

Many people and team operate on a  heliotropic basis – they gravitate, like sunflowers to the sun, to actions, behaviours and people that they admire. You can identify people in your workplace who are glittering examples of such behaviours. These are your culture champions. Nurture and encourage them to keep repeating those winning habits. These can be as simple as helpfulness, going the extra mile for colleagues, speaking up at meetings and punctuality. Eventually, habits of one person will spread to others in the right environment. If you think you can win faster by getting people to set ambitious goals for themselves, than ask yourself if your system supports such champions in terms of recognition and reward. Often it’s not even monetary rewards but a kind word, here and there by yourself or your peers. One of my leadership heroes, Sir Chris Bonington, who has led countless mountaineering expeditions, related a striking example of a winning culture. As a guest member of the 1985 Norwegian expedition to Mt Everest, he could observe first hand the attitudes displayed by members of this national  team that was attempting the peak for the first time for their country. Each member was interviewed about their respective ambitions and interests. One, in particular, was interesting. When asked if summitting Mt Everest was important to him, he said: “ Yes, it’s very important for me to be able to get to the top.” Then he paused, and said, “ But more importantly, that one of us gets to the top!” So even in the short time frame of  a two-month long expedition that took a year to plan, a culture of encouraging other teammates to be as, if not more successful than themselves, created a superbly harmonious, and collegial atmosphere. Many of that team succeeded in reaching the top, and more than 25 years later, they are all still on exceedingly good terms with each other.

3) Celebrate:

Take time off after an office ‘win’ with your team to remind them implicitly or explicitly to keep doing those things that bring victory. Many people I know have left good jobs because, the management kept forgetting and failing to recognise those attitudes that brought past success.

If any of you are interested in getting the rest of the results of the global poll we did, contact me below, and I hope this will help you develop your own winning culture