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Company culture in the crosshairs

When Will Andrew was appointed president of Trimark Sportswear Group on June 1 this year, tinkering with the culture of the company wasn’t exactly his top priority. Instead, the 39-year-old was focused on enhancing the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based company’s sales and marketing efforts - capitalizing, in part, on its momentum as one of nine active-wear licensees for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympic Games.

But over the first few weeks on the job, everything changed: Culture was suddenly Trimark’s top priority. .

Why the sudden shift? After all, there had been few complaints about the culture: 80 to 100 employees in brand-new digs together for the first time (Trimark started in Markham and its offices were in three locations), a stunning $1.5-million, 165,000-square-foot warehouse where things are, in Mr. Andrew’s words, “running at literally 100 per cent,” employees who were genuinely liked by their customers and who generally liked each other, the thrill of having been involved in the Olympics.

The change in focus came about after a meeting with Managerial Design Corp., which Mr. Andrew had hired to help improve strategic initiatives for the 35-year-old company. After the first sessions, it was determined that culture was one of six important areas. During a management team exercise about what drives what, everybody voted that culture was the foundation of everything.

“Every year someone will write up, ‘Our customers like us,’ and it will just kind of sit there,” says Mr. Andrew. “It’s always on our strategic side as a strength.”

But how do you make that a competitive advantage? “Why aren’t we playing that card? How do you play that card? That’s the question,” he says.

Already, Mr. Andrew and his senior management team have started to make changes - a company newsletter, a rethinking of the office design to make the space feel more inclusive - but the real process of culture change is just beginning.

“Every day, when I come in, I think ‘What am I going to do today? What am I going to communicate to the staff?’” says Mr. Andrew, who has been with Trimark since 2005, most recently as vice-president of sales and marketing.

For the next several weeks, through stories and video, The Globe and Mail will be checking in with Mr. Andrew and his team at Trimark as they go through the process of identifying and implementing the steps toward achieving a winning culture. Experts will offer their insights about the importance of such a process and the things a company should - and should not - do along the way. Mr. Andrew will contribute a regular blog about his experiences, good and bad.

And what does he hope to gain with this public exercise?

First, for his team “to feel special being part of a series that highlights what we do and elements of our company that we cherish.”

Second, to share what he learns with readers and other smaller businesses grappling with similar issues.

Third, accountability. “It keeps it first and foremost a priority,” he adds. “It pushes us to think creatively about how to move and, potentially, how to move a little faster than we might normally.”