April 12, 2021

Changing a Company Culture at Onex Inc.

Ashleigh Walters

President, Onex

Change is hard even when it's necessary. Just because you have “always done it that way” doesn’t mean it is the right way or even works very well. Sometimes you need to reflect and do a gut check. Does this feel good?  Am I getting the value I need or want from the effort?

A great organizational culture can be your competitive advantage. The culture may allow you to attract top talent, but it may also mean that everyone pulls together when the going gets tough. When I started at Onex as general manager, the company was working in departmental silos. There was a “not my job” attitude. Fear was prevalent in the organization because the previous manager had ranted and raved trying to get everyone to work faster and harder. You could feel the tension in the atmosphere, and it did not feel good.

Recently, I read the book Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. The authors tell a story of a manufacturing company that was worst in its class in a larger organization. The company president gave a new manager just a few months to turn the place around, or the business doors would close. The young manager found an ally in the plant with the best-run department that taught her the ways of Gung Ho! Each principle defined below was modeled on an observation made in nature.

The Spirit of the Squirrel: Worthwhile Work

A squirrel’s work, to store food for winter, is worthwhile because without storing food, they would not survive the winter.

Everyone wants to know that their work matters to the betterment of society. It is important that people know the company’s mission and core values. These two items are guiding lights by which all plans, decisions, and actions are made.

The Way of the Beaver: In Control of Achieving the Goal

Beavers construct dams with valiant effort acting as independent contractors all working in their own ways to accomplish the same mission.

In my opinion, goals should not be forced from the top down. Instead, I have found it better to set one "Wildly Important Goal" (WIG) for the organization and allow each department and person to define what they can do to help the team meet the WIG. When you have a say in the direction, you also have the energy to pursue meeting your goal and exceeding your own expectations. In addition, leaders need to know and respect the thoughts, feelings, needs, and dreams of their team. True diversity and inclusion means everyone is heard and understood.

The Gift of the Goose: Cheering Others On

Geese honk enthusiastically to provide encouragement for the flight ahead.

As milestones and goals are met, celebrate together! Provide each other encouragement when the going gets tough. Recognize the valuable contributions each person brings to the organization. Enthusiasm in your work is contagious.

It was interesting how the points in this book resonated with me. I had used similar ideas to move from a "command and control" leadership style to a democratic, coach approach style of leadership.

A few things of importance to note:

  • Play to everyone’s strengths and abilities. If this means moving people around on the bus until you find the seat where they can perform at their highest, do it. 
  • Encourage a growth mindset where each day an opportunity or experience offers you the ability to level up. 
  • Have an abundance mindset, knowing that there is plenty of pie for everyone to share. 
  • You may have spent years climbing the corporate ladder to get to the rung where you can now tell others what to do, but let the ego go and treat others as you wish you had been treated—with respect and honesty. 
  • Clean up the place by literally throwing out what is old and unused, painting, scrubbing, and generally making everything sparkly. 
  • Share company information with everyone, offering an opportunity to educate others on the importance of your work. 
  • Finally, have a positive attitude, which will make all the difference in the world!

Visit onexinc.com/make-things-better to find more resources to help along your journey of organizational culture change.

Looking for more culture insights? Catch Ashleigh Walters as our featured keynote speaker at the 2021 Annual Conference!