Building a winning culture

Alongside the collective sadness over the passing of Sir Roger Bannister last weekend - quite poignantly on the occasion of the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham - there were some fantastic tributes to the man who became the first to break the four-minute barrier for the mile.  

One recollection centred on the team that made the 3.59.4 run at Iffley Road, Oxford in May of 1954 possible. Chris Brasher and Sir Chris Chataway were the pacemakers who helped Bannister stay on track for his pioneering run into the record books, a tight knit group who built their own culture of success - Chris Brasher, for example, went on to win Olympic gold in the steeplechase in 1956 - both on and away from the training ground. Brasher’s son recounts a time when the three men, struggling to improve their times, escaped the university cloisters to walk the hills of north Wales. On their return, they had found the extra seconds they had been searching for.   

As a schoolboy in the late eighties, I was fortunate enough to be part of Scotland’s top middle distance running club at that time. The team, based in Clydebank, couldn’t afford tracksuits like a lot of the other running clubs we competed against. I remember a nemesis of mine who ran for the Johnnie Walker-sponsored Kilmarnock athletics club taunting us about it ahead of a race. One of my club mates, Glen Stewart, son of Lachie Stewart, the 1979 Commonwealth Games gold medalist at the 10,000 metres, turned to us and said, “spin round boys.” We might have been a raggle-taggle lot but when we turned our backs most of us were wearing Scotland or GB tops.

Our camaraderie at Clydebank AC was a big part of our success and our achievement of individual and collective excellence came down to process - we trained hard and targeted the races on the calendar where we wanted to reach peak performance. It was important to have a great leader and we had one in the form of our coach, Alan Marshall, a former middle distance international himself and a bank manager by day. 

We also had leaders within the group - an older guy we all looked up to, the comedian of the group whose sense of humour made the training on cold, dark evenings more bearable and the “big man”, a guy who doubled as security when we were out for a few drinks on a Saturday night. 

I next experienced a winning culture with one of Europe’s top corporate communications agencies, Maitland, in London. Working alongside PR consultants who were former FT and Economist editors and reporters and highly rated investment analysts and fund managers from the City, a collegiate-type commitment to process, in a not dissimilar way to my time with Clydebank AC, translated to business success for the firm. 

In 2018, company culture and related areas like brand, including employer brand, have never been more important and there is a lot of buzz around corporate values and how they translate to business outcomes. Last week saw the announcement of the inaugural Impact Summit in Glasgow in May that sees The Hunter Foundation backing FutureX and its mission around business as a force for good and, on a personal level, I’m honoured to have been asked to get involved with proceedings. 

Over the last couple of years, through working with agency clients like WhitespaceMadeBraveH&A and Denholm’s Inside Out and seeing first hand the great work they have done with other clients like Anderson StrathernRettie & CoGraham + SibbaldSharkeyand the EICC, I’ve got a further feel for how thorough brand examination and repositioning can be. Like the running analogy, you don’t always need a brand new tracksuit but how you look and feel to your stakeholders and customers is hugely important. 

Perhaps the most exciting corporate cultures on the Scottish scene are those growing by something akin to osmosis, seemingly without too much by way of design, in our startup community where names like AmiqusSeed HausCodeBase (who celebrated its 4th birthday last week), Care SourcerMindMateLendingCrowd and Administrate are leading the charge.