How to change the culture within your business

People often ask how we create such a positive, vibrant culture at Virgin. As with most things, the answer is in our people.

The key to any organisation is how it treats its people. If staff are downtrodden, disrespected and underappreciated, customers will be too. If teams are happy, supported and empowered to take on challenges, customers will follow suit.

I wanted to point out a few other examples of embedding culture outside Virgin that have caught my eye. The first comes from an old Google video, with Larry Page and co fighting back against a rampaging colleague popping balloons in the office. It shows the importance of having fun in the office, welcoming new employees and treating them like part of the family.

The other example is from the World Bank. I visited Jim Yong Kim earlier this year and it was fascinating hearing him explain how he is changing the culture at the Bank to one that is more collaborative and focused on problem solving.

He showed me how he had moved out of his grand corner office on arriving at the Bank – an office so remote he had to “call his assistant to organise a meeting!” So he moved everyone to a central room, which had only been used for cocktail parties before. He now works in the centre of the room in what looks like a newsroom or trading floor. The lack of walls has helped to improve collaboration and broken down some of the formality of the bank.

He explained he was now focused on building an organisation that tries to learn from its work with different projects and share the lessons of successful development around the world. He told me too many times the World Bank would create a successful programme around, for example, irrigation or land management in one country and then not transport the ideas to a new country when exactly the same issue arose. Under Kim they are determined to capture the knowledge and transfer it. Interestingly, Jim Yong Kim is not a bureaucrat or banker by training but a leading academic, health expert and more recently the president of one of America’s leading colleges. He is bringing fresh thinking and is not afraid to speak out on his issues he thinks are wrong. 

He also confessed his first interaction with the bank was as a young activist trying to get the bank shut down on its 50th anniversary! It shows how you can make positive cultural change from within.

Image by Greg Rose

The final example comes from Mike Bloomberg, who I happened to bump into when being interviewed at his organisation in New York recently. As I was leaving the building I spotted Mike sitting across the room and went over for a chat. His desk was in the thick of his employees – not cut off in a big separate office. The lesson here? Leaders should make themselves available. By sitting on the shop floor with the team, Mike was able to ingrain himself back in the culture of the business, and inspire those around him. Plus, there was much greater opportunity for the type of unscheduled meeting we had. Random conversations like that one are often what result in great new ideas.

By changing the culture of your business to be more open, collaborative and creative, you will help to inspire and empower your employees – and have a lot more fun along the way too. 


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