Build a "Can-Do" Culture

I am a strong believer in the axiom that “action is character” – that we come to know by doing, that we learn by doing. That’s why I believe it is essential first to act out or model the new culture you want to nurture. For our customer-facing employees – especially technicians and sales people – we always institute what I call the “do it now; do it right” approach. At Telstra I called it the One Factory approach, and it was driven by four guiding principles that Greg Winn, our chief operating officer, used to manage operations:

  • Do it once;
  • Do it ‘right’ for the customer;
  • Do it in an integrated way; and
  • Do it at the lowest unit cost.

The culture of a large organization is best changed by simple guidelines, easy-to-understand expectations, and people at every level who day-after-day model the ideas, attitudes, and practices by which the new culture will be defined. At Telstra we delayed the formal introduction of a more customer-centric, family-friendly, entrepreneurial, flexible, and results-oriented culture until late in the first year of our transformation. However, we began on Day One to model the new culture. We began by doing what we said and saying what we would do. As we performed our reviews, we told the unvarnished truth with a no-spin approach. We walked our talk. As a result, employees and many outsiders saw that we were serious, that the leaders were leading.

We modeled the new culture for nearly a year so that we could embed these values and priorities in key segments of the business and key teams and then model, spotlight, and amplify the new attitudes and practices before their formal introduction. When the time came, we introduced easy-to-understand monikers that captured the essence of the desired cultural transformation. These included a formatted collection of phrases, such as:

  • Customer First
  • Anything Possible
  • Done Now

Changing a culture is hard work, but it’s essential to changing the performance of an enterprise. At Telstra we were fortunate to have employee engagement surveys that went back several years prior to our transformation, so we were able to have reliable “before-and-after” measures of employee attitudes and practices. The changes we achieved were dramatic as most of the indicators registered increases from the high teens in some cases to the high 80s and low 90s and substantial improvements on literally every measure – including employee engagem.