Managers can draw lessons on cultivating a much-desired workplace culture from professional sports teams and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of the 1953 Mount Everest expedition.




A global poll last year surveying C-suite executives, vice-presidents and office professionals revealed negotiation, expectation and performance management, creating a winning work culture, winning buy-in and strategy implementation as what professionals believed were the five most under-rated leadership skills.

“Creating a winning work culture” resonated most with respondents, similar to the same survey conducted in 2011. These are the three key reasons why I feel a winning culture can drive workplace results:

1. Culture drives behaviour
2. It’s free
3. You don’t have to police a culture

To create one, managers need to first assess the present culture to determine how far it is from the desired state, identify culture “champions” who would drive the desired culture through their actions and behaviour, and lastly, celebrate successes to further encourage a winning attitude.
If you have been catching the Olympics or other professional team events, you’ll notice how team managers often insert a key culture champion from the start or during key moments. In the MICE industry, a senior concierge staff, project manager or the meeting planner may well be that person.

One of the memorable stories linked to the famous expedition group to successfully scale Mount Everest in 1953 revolves round the influence of Tenzing Norgay had on his team of Darjeeling sherpas. Sherpa Tenzing, the most experienced mountaineer in the expedition, was widely seen as the leader and a key member of the team that eventually conquered the mountain. At the start of the expedition, his team of paid, semi-skilled local high-altitude porters were slighted in Kathmandu by the British High Commissioner, who made the team of sherpas made do in the stables, while the British Commonwealth members were housed in the more salubrious diplomatic quarters.

To show their displeasure, the sherpas lined up against a wall and emptied their bladders in full view of the rest. Expedition leader John Hunt never forgot this let-down, and worked hard after to forge a more united team. In an effort to display mutual trust, he also made Sherpa Tenzing a full and equal member of the team.
Thereafter, the secret in sustaining the culture we have been cultivating is for us to keep doing what we are good at. Time has shown that whenever companies try to expand their brands or buy into a business they don’t truly understand, huge uncalculated risks are often taken, leading to failure. By doing what teams are good at, they will have the confidence to know what they need to secure the next big contract, and also pick themselves up after a setback.

Sustaining a winning culture involves engaging with your culture champions, and acknowledging their contributions. You’ll also notice that this has been widely recognised as a key performance motivator in younger workers, or Gen Y.
Sustaining wins over the long run also demands a high level of listening.
By listening intently, you’ll be able to not only engage champions and the rest of the team, but also calibrate your leadership style and pace.
After all, Doug Larson once said: Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.

David Lim is an Everest expedition leader, author and keynote speaker on leadership and motivation; and has delivered presentations in 25 countries and 47 cities since 1999.