The brilliant BlitzBokke are known around the world for much more than being South Africa’s national rugby union sevens team. They are also celebrated for the one key ingredient that differentiates them from their competitors – a high-performance culture. And it is this attribute that in today’s challenging economic environment, companies would do well to emulate to gain or maintain competitive advantage and sustainable growth.

I believe an effective performance culture transcends international boundaries and regional norms, but still embraces the authenticity of individuals and their national culture. This is what the Blitzbokke do so well: they are a highly diverse team in which individual talents are celebrated, but they are also able to pull together as a side in which no individual is bigger than the team.

So what can companies learn from our sevens team? In my view, the key attributes of winning cultures are:

  • High aspirations and a desire to win. In high-­performance cultures, good is never good enough. Company managers are always pushing to go further, better, faster. It’s not just about short­-term financial performance – it is about building something truly special and lasting.
  • External focus. Companies with high-­performance cultures focus their energies externally on delighting customers, beating competitors and caring for communities. They don’t get caught up in internal politics or navel-­gazing.
  • A ‘think like the owners’ attitude. A hallmark of a high-­performance culture is that employees take personal responsibility for overall business performance. They understand that their actions impact the bottom line, and they strive to do the right thing for the business, putting aside issues of personality or territory.
  • A bias to action. High-­performance cultures are impatient to get things done. They are doers, not talkers, constantly keeping an eye on where the value is to ensure their actions will enhance the business.
  • Individuals who team. Winning cultures encourage employees to be themselves and help individuals develop to their full potential. They also recognise the importance of teamwork, being open to the ideas of others, and debating issues collaboratively.
  • Passion and energy. Everyone in a high-­performance culture gives 100%, striving to go beyond adequate to exceptional in the areas that really matter, and bringing an infectious enthusiasm to everything they do.

Instilling a high-­performance culture in an organisation is easier said than done. In my experience, most corporate cultures are not high­performing, although most aspire to be.

To build a culture of excellence, executives need to:

  • Be leaders themselves – companies that will survive and thrive are those with dynamic and agile leaders able to spot and act on opportunities
  • Enforce accountability – teams need to be empowered and have the freedom to act, but with the necessary support
  • Make the team’s common goals and purposes clear
  • Establish group norms or a code of conduct
  • Show they have trust in each individual team member
  • Give recognition and celebrate incremental successes
  • Expect that everyone on the team should and will act like a leader
  • Encourage employees to propose better ways of getting their jobs done.
Leon Ayo

Leon Ayo is the CEO of Odgers Berndtson South Africa based in Johannesburg. He works within all industries and sectors in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Previously he was a partner in Odgers Berndt...

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