Building a winning culture for leaders

Written by
Changeboard Team

05 Jul 2017

05 Jul 2017 • by Changeboard Team

Over 30 years of global experience has taught us that a winning culture produces at least four critical outcomes.
  1. Organisations with winning cultures achieve sustained, superior results – today, tomorrow, next quarter, next year
  2. They establish loyal customers who come back again and again, and tell stories about why they do so
  3. Their employees are fully engaged, giving their finest efforts to their work
  4. The organisation’s stakeholders develop a sense that they are making a distinctive contribution

Consider employee engagement for a moment. In today’s world, with all its attendant challenges and moving pieces, the key factor between the organisations that will sustain success and those that don’t will be the ability to engage one’s people to volunteer their very best. It is the ultimate competitive advantage. Let’s look at a powerful example of this ultimate competitive advantage in action.


How to create a winning culture

We define culture as the collective behaviour of your people. It’s what the majority of your people do the majority of the time, the nature of the language and relationships within the organisation, and the spoken and unspoken values, norms, and systems operating at work. 

Winning cultures are filled with superb people who deliver as promised time after time. They give you someone and something to trust.

Let’s visit a winning culture: Western Digital, one of the largest hard disk drive manufacturers in the world.

 Just as an individual’s character is tested when it is under pressure, an organisation’s culture is exposed during times of crisis. The culture at Western Digital was tested in 2011, during Thailand’s heaviest rainy season in fifty years. Due to immense flooding, thirteen million people were displaced and more than eight hundred people died. It was reported as the fourth most expensive disaster in history.

Western Digital’s manufacturing facility went under nearly six feet of water, devastating an operation that requires a zero-dust environment. It was a calamity of epic proportion.
When it was over, experts estimated that it would take a billion dollars and at least seven months of cleanup to get even part of the Western Digital factory back on line, while much of the high-end equipment would require years to replace. Some market reports even predicted the end of the company, which would leave nearly 35,000 workers without jobs. The effects were immediateand global, as high-tech manufacturing everywhere ground to a halt without the key components from Thailand.

Western Digital’s leaders didn’t want to take years to get back to work, so – drawing from a healthy culture they had deliberately cultivated – they took things into their own hands. They immediately spread the word that there would be no layoffs – they were a team and they were going to get on their feet together. The safety of their people came first; crews were organised to help the most stricken employees with urgent circumstances in their homes. On day two, they came up with the idea to hire Thai navy crews to salvage irreplaceable equipment and get it to dry land for refurbishing.

Culture in practice

Meanwhile, the plants of other big companies in their industrial park, with their workers laid off, were rusting in mud. But at Western Digital, the work went on nonstop. The fact that everyone remained on payroll certainly made a difference, but rebuilding the business themselves seemed to come naturally to these remarkable workers. Tens of thousands, many still trying to cope with the crisis at their homes, showed up to revive their plant. Some travelled miles each day from refugee centres, often in small boats or on water oxen for hours a day, determined to show up for work.

Company leaders rolled up their sleeves and laboured alongside their colleagues. Workers who had never met before formed teams and solved problems on the spot.

As a result, Western Digital reopened the plant only fifteen days after the waters receded. Within a year, it had reclaimed the number one position in the market. The firm remained profitable, and even managed to acquire one of its top competitors. Observers were astonished that it hadn’t taken billions of dollars and many years to recover. All it took was a superb team willing to wade through mud for each other. That is the power of a winning culture.


How to create your own winning culture

Great cultures – the kind that become a competitive advantage – don’t just happen. They are a deliberate creation. They require a framework for implementing a common language and approach. They require deep personal effectiveness in every role. They require leadership at every level, with clarity around the organisation’s key goals and top priorities, and a process for executing these priorities. They require trust and loyalty among (and beyond) the team.

A leader’s main job is to build that kind of culture. As author Ram Charan said: “The culture of any organisation is simply the collective behaviour of its leaders. If you want to change your culture, change the collective behaviour of your leaders.”