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Instilling corporate culture: Where to start?

When Will Andrew was appointed president of Trimark Sportswear Group on June 1 this year, tinkering with the culture of the Richmond Hill, Ont., company wasn’t exactly his top priority. But he has since envisioned the possible benefits. Here he chronicles the start of the process.

Will Andrew

Will Andrew

Turning to others for advice and best practices

Last week I had time to visit customers and see first hand our sales force in action. It also gave me a chance to chat about the cultural development at Trimark. Clearly many business owners are faced with similar challenges and opportunities and welcome the discussion. Many of our customers are constantly working on their own cultures and are looking to different sources for ideas and directions.

Of course, everyone draws on their own experience; for me it was packing boxes and answering customer calls early in my career. Those days have provided a perspective that grounds many decisions I make now.

So where do I turn to get additional insights and direction?

I often try and imagine potential changes from my staff’s point of view so I’d have an answer if they asked, “What’s in it for me?” Our management team feels this kind of thinking will lead to more engagement.

As a result we are turning to our employees more and more to see what they’re thinking and to gather any ideas they have. In addition to the insights they offer, simply including them in the process will create engagement and buy-in, which is critical to the success of any corporate initiative.

As part of EO (Entrepreneurs Organization, a global network of entrepreneurs), I have built a good network of advisers and mentors. My Forum group is eight members strong, each running non-competing businesses. We meet monthly to discuss business issues and problem-solve together using our experiences as the guide to the advice we share.

I’ve also had one-on-one meetings with mentors - one of whom, fortunately, works at Trimark and one of whom comes from outside the business altogether. For those companies with a board of directors, this is another source to gain a different perspective.

Books also provide me with new ideas and viewpoints. Specifically with respect to culture, I often refer to Good to Great by Jim Collins, and have gained insight from Tribal Leadership by David Logan. Both of these books provide methods to understand the current environment and how you can “nudge” the company forward.

Lastly, blogs provide insights from people who have no vested interest. Because our journey is being documented in The Globe, there is no shortage of commentary, and it has sparked great conversation within the company. Still, the different views shared create great dialogue and excellent learning opportunities for both front-line staff and back-office support. This ultimately is creating the engagement we are seeking. These views are often extreme ? we are running a “day care” or we’re focused on returns at the expense of our people. Neither is true, and we remain focused on our staff’s engagement to enable our strategic plans. We think people want to be on a winning team, and our goal is to create one.

We’re still in early stages and we’re gathering a great deal of information. This week our employee council - a representative from each major department - was selected and we’re going to work together to establish our next cultural steps.

If you have additional sources for advice, please share them here or with us on Facebook and Twitter.