Building a Culture of Winning

Jan 10, 2012

As a fan of the Green Bay Packers as a kid (the Vince Lombardi era), I was struck even back then by the culture of the organization and its singular commitment to winning.

In the 1960s, that meant the entire team was focused on a single goal. Former Packer Henry Jordan said the means to achieve that goal was simple. "Lombardi treats us all alike, like dogs."

In recent years, the team has embraced its Titletown heritage and remained focused on the goal, although in a style decidedly different than under Mr. Lombardi.

"Some teams can coach out of fear," Packer safety Charlie Peprah told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "Here it’s all about building you up and encouraging you and trying to work on improving versus what have you done wrong."

David Novak, the CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell), recently did an interview in which he spoke about creating the right environment for organizational improvement to take place.

"It’s a leader’s job to create a safe haven that allows people to raise issues without the fear of losing their jobs," Mr. Novak told "The real natural leaders do it. They can’t wait to tell you what you’re missing, because they’re trying to move the business forward and they’re looking for growth and they’re really trying to identify the unfinished business."

  • Vince Lombardi, The Man – Lombardi – A New American Play on Broadway
  • Mike Vandermause column: Packers craft culture of winning – Green Bay Press-Gazette
  • Leadership Lessons From the Man Behind the World’s Biggest Restaurant Company –
  • Discussion Questions: What are the keys to creating a culture of winning within business organizations? Who do you see as the most effective retail industry leaders in this regard?

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    15 Comments on "Building a Culture of Winning"

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    Dave Wendland
    10 years 4 months ago

    Empowerment. Belief. And trust.

    Dick Seesel
    10 years 4 months ago

    Here’s a topic dear to my heart. (Go, Pack, Go!) Frankly, some of the “culture of winning” in Green Bay comes from its history and tradition, and it’s not necessarily something easy to replicate. In fact, the Packers went through a long dry spell (about 20 years) during which the “culture of winning” was absent. So any organization trying to capture this attitude (or recapture it) can’t just rely on past glories.

    One of the unspoken keys to the Packers’ organizational strength right now is the sense of “ownership” (both real and intangible) by all of the stakeholders — fans, players, team leaders, the community. The Packers have a unique business model as a publicly owned team with thousands of shareholders, but it’s an attitude that many other organizations — retail or otherwise — should aspire to. In short, make sure that your executives, hourly associates, customers, vendors and other stakeholders are literally or figuratively “invested” in the success of the business.

    Warren Thayer
    10 years 4 months ago

    Give capable people the tools and the training to do their jobs, and then step back and let them work. I’ve worked under screamers and fear-mongers before, both in business and as a volunteer firefighter, and it makes you second-guess yourself before every decision, based not on what’s the right response at the time, but on what the boss will think. It also makes you not want to try something innovative or untested because “the boss might not like it.” The culture at retail is set partially at headquarters but mostly at store level by the individual managers. That’s why having good store managers is so essential.

    David Biernbaum
    10 years 4 months ago

    In the world of consumer goods and retail, winning cultures are created a little bit like a football team but also with some differences. Here are my favorite ingredients:

    1. Passion.

    2. Thirst for Knowledge.

    3. Habitual Networking and Outreach to help partners and alliances.

    4. Competitiveness – Know what it means to win and adapt winning attitudes and behavior.

    5. True respect for the company/brand’s leadership.

    6. True respect for each one-self – everyone within has self-respect.

    7. Safe Harbor for open communications within.

    8. High Emotional I.Q. without disruptive ego.

    9. Avoid complacency.

    10. Don’t be afraid of mistakes but avoid the really stupid ones.

    11. Know what you don’t know.

    12. Be approachable inside your organization and outside as well.

    Ben Ball
    10 years 4 months ago
    In my book of “Ben’s Theories” (OK, it’s not really a book, just a list I’ve kept over the years) one of the first I ever wrote down was the “Theory of Greatest Vested Interest.” It simply states that the ultimate responsibility for getting something done will revert to the person who has the greatest vested interest in seeing that particular thing accomplished. No matter what sort of delegation scheme you try to set up. So to create a winning culture and team, you create a shared vested interest. Everyone has to: a) understand the goal b) understand the value of the goal c) know the strategy for accomplishing the goal d) know exactly what they will get when the goal is accomplished. e) feel that their reward is commensurate (i.e. “fair”) for their role in the task. One word of caution in implementing the theory. Think through unintended consequences before you do this. Be sure you really want the team to accomplish exactly what you lay out — because they are going to, come… Read more »
    Gene Detroyer
    10 years 4 months ago

    The difference between the Green Bay Packers and retailers is in who participates in the rewards. When the Packers won the Super Bowl, everybody in the organization won. The rewards for successful retail operations rarely go beyond the top echelon of managers. Let’s face it, the structure of retail is such that those who have the greatest interface with the customers are those that are treated the as appendages to the organizations.

    Matt Schmitt
    10 years 4 months ago
    I recently read about how Charles Walgreen Sr. instilled a culture of winning that has proven successful at Walgreens. One of the key ingredients was empowering team members at the local level with the authority and tools to help the customer freely, and with the support of the organization. A good example of inspiring a winning culture was illustrated in the company’s creed: ——-We believe in the goods we merchandise, in ourselves and our ability to render satisfaction. We believe that honest goods can be sold to honest people by honest methods. We believe in working, not waiting; in laughing, not weeping; in boosting, not knocking; and in the pleasure of selling products. We believe that we can get what we go after and that we are not down and out until we have lost faith in ourselves. We believe in today and the work we are doing, in tomorrow and the work we hope to do, and in the sure reward the future holds. We believe in courtesy, in kindness, in generosity, in cheer,… Read more »
    Larry Negrich
    10 years 4 months ago

    Oh to be a Green Bay fan and enjoy years of success. It’s easy to build a winning team from a winning foundation. It’s the sign of a truly special leader who can take a losing organization and alter the culture and make the changes needed to turn that team (or retailer) into a winning dynasty. Being from Detroit, I think it is important to recognize some of the keys to failure and to avoid these at all costs. (Many of these “loser” qualities beget other loser qualities that all team up to perpetuate the slog of a losing culture.) Many more, but these top the list:
    Acceptance of 2nd place (or worse) as a good result
    Stability of executive management along with instability of all other personnel
    Lack of creativity
    Inability to attract talent
    Blame all who question decisions.

    David Zahn
    10 years 4 months ago

    The list so far is inspiring and covers many of the most essential things executives need to consider. Taking it in a slightly different vein:

    1) Refer to things as ” Way of Doing It” and then personalize it to ” contribution to…” When people have their names attached to things, there is an immediate ownership and desire to excel.

    2) Always search for the better way – progressive performance over postponed perfection is to be sought (otherwise, things never move forward) – but do not rest on laurels. In today’s news was the story of the East Coast ice cream restaurant, Friendly’s closing significant stores. In part, it is due to their inability to move past their heritage and improve. What worked in 1970 is quaint, but ineffective now, 40 plus years later.

    3) Expect, demand, inspect for greatness and reward it when it happens!

    The best may be Nordstrom’s in brick and mortar and Amazon in the online world.

    Mel Kleiman
    10 years 4 months ago

    Key to creating a winning culture is to set and hold people responsible for setting and reaching stretch goals. When you raise the goal you may miss the bulls-eye but you will achieve for more than you thought you would.

    Only one caveat and it comes from Dilbert. “80% is hiring the right people and 20% is leaving them alone so they can do their job.”

    Leading companies are always the same,like the Container Store, Costco, and Disney.

    Ralph Jacobson
    10 years 4 months ago

    There is no magic, other than corporate and local leadership leading by example. Nothing new here. If a “Hello!” to every shopper is desired by management, then management should over-achieve this goal. Take customer service to the extreme. Have the employees see it happen. Management should reward those who step up and take their lead.

    David Livingston
    10 years 4 months ago
    I work in a bubble that is pretty much the supermarket industry. I spend a lot of time in grocery stores. Going to work in a grocery store every day isn’t the most glamorous job in the world. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and it doesn’t mean you can’t feel like a winner. Hy-Vee, Publix, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s…odd, after leaving one of those stores I feel I’ve been uplifted by their people. Now I know I make a lot more money than one of their typical workers, but after talking with their employees, I sometimes feel like I could give up this consulting stuff and go work in one of their stores. Sounds silly, but I think I’d feel like a winner if I was bagging groceries for them. I think the key to a culture of winning is to make work fun, make it rewarding, make everyone feel like part of a team — an important part, and make sure you keep score. Let your employees know all the stats… Read more »
    Ed Rosenbaum
    10 years 4 months ago

    Interesting that this survey shows half of us think the retail industry leaders are ineffective in creating an organizational culture that breeds success. Maybe this should be one of tomorrow’s topics?

    Kip Tindall and his partner Garrett Boone, founders of The Container Store should be recognized for their achievement in creating a culture of success.

    Ed Dennis
    Ed Dennis
    10 years 4 months ago

    The key to creating a culture of winning is to create a culture of US. The involvement of each player in the plan, and execution of the plan is the key. Unless everyone has a role and unless all understand their current roles and how they impact the team, the plan is shaky from day one. If each individual is making individual decisions after the plan starts and not communicating with others then the plan is sunk. However, to accomplish this the organization must be capable of planning intelligently. Most organizations’ success is not due to the ambitions of a few who place their careers ahead of any other player.

    Kai Clarke
    10 years 4 months ago

    Positive business climate, great goals, and proactive thinking are all part of the organizational behavior which a great organization must embrace. Clear communication in a culture which embraces change and places a priority on the customer is key to both creating and evolving this culture throughout the organization.


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