Creating a winning culture

By Dr. Bernie Mullin (DrB)

Over my 38-year plus career spent at the C-Suite level in Major League Sports operating world-class venues and highly competitive Intercollegiate Athletic programs, I have been tasked with turnarounds of existing clubs and launches of new franchises. The goal has been to create winning organizations both on the field, court, or ice. On the business side, it was producing a highly engaged community of fans that led to great attendance and high revenue generation.

In short, I have been asked to create a winner, draw well, make money, and build positive enterprise value.

The formula I used in every case—including with the hundreds of client partners I have mentored and consulted—has been the same. That formula is to build the right team of executives and staff, mold and bind them together with the fibers of the right culture, all focused in the same direction, and then execute a data-driven strategic plan flawlessly. Then, you can sit back and enjoy success, tweaking as necessary.

My philosophy is derived from two landmark works. The first is Jim Collins's book Good To Great, which famously outlines his core principle for turnarounds, including "get the wrong people off the bus, the right people on the bus, and then get them in the right seats."

The second is "Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World's Top Sports," by Clive Gilson, Mike Pratt, Kevin Roberts, and Ed Weymes. The authors identified four major common characteristics in perennially peak-performing (highly successful) global sport organizations, which are common purpose, operating as a functional family, allowing creativity and innovation, and flow (seamless collaboration) and teamwork.

Over the years, my success plan has grown into the principles of four key ingredients, listed in sequential and essential order:

1. Passionate and Visionary Ownership and Leadership
The saying, "A fish stinks from the head down," means you cannot build a winning culture without the right leadership. If the owner and/or CEO of a company is not an inspiring leader or good communicator, achieving this goal is not possible unless you hire a COO with these qualities.

Even then, if the owner or CEO does not get out of the way and let this person do their thing, it will not work. Workers are only inspired to follow visionary and passionate people, especially in these days of fickle workforces that change jobs frequently.

2. United and Cohesive Management Team with Connected Staff
No one person can ever make an organization successful by themselves, even if they are the greatest of leaders. They need committed and competent people around them to execute successfully. This is achieved by focusing on only hiring A's (Superstars), who in turn hire only A's to work with them.

This is the hardest part of building a winning culture, because it takes time to find, develop and nurture the right people, and get them to come together as a united force.

"No one person can ever make an organization successful by themselves, even if they are the greatest of leaders. They need committed and competent people around them to execute successfully."

In my company, The Aspire Group, we based our hiring on an exhaustive process called WHOPPPP—where we asked highly targeted interview questions that made the candidates think they could not offer prepared answers to our questions.

The questions are specific to what we are evaluating:

W = Work Ethic
H = Honesty and Integrity
O = Openness to Learning
P = Passion
P = Productivity
P = Positive Attitude
P = Potential for Leadership

Finally, we factored the cultural fit of any new employee into our team as a vital ingredient to our success. We only accept candidates who scored at least a [4 = Good] or [5 = Excellent] on each of the seven characteristics from all three interviewers: their direct boss, boss' boss, and a peer.

3. Bringing The Team Together as One
Having your team members come together with everyone's input valued and listened to, even if there is some healthy conflict, will help shape the right decisions based on hard data and research. This requires putting systems and procedures in place, which will lead to healthy group interaction based on the output of careful planning.

4. Flow
The creation of a seamless group process is vital to success. This is where people work well for and with one another and support each other fully. This must happen even if it means picking up someone else's slack when needed. The best explanation of flow is remembering a first date: Did it go smoothly (flow), or was it awkward (no flow and energy killing)?

In my experience, a winning culture can only be expected when an organization has been built with all the above elements in place and operating smoothly.

Dr. Bernie Mullin

Veteran brand-building and professional development leader Dr. Bernie Mullin shares the insights and strategies leaders use to elevate their teams, organizations, and career strategies. Learn the secrets to transforming your company, building a winning culture, elevating your brand, and mastering the hiring and retention process to reach peak performance.

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