The Secret to Sustaining a Winning Culture

 As Peter Drucker once said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast any day.’ In an ever shifting marketplace, a good culture is the rock that enables organisations to ride the ups and downs of uncertainty.

So how can managers and executives lean upon culture in a way that enables companies to be adaptive and agile with the times? And how do we build and retain that culture when there seems to be a revolving door of talent?

We need to look for mentorship-orientation as part of the talent requirements in our new recruits, and cultivate a mentorship-capability among our existing talent. While there has been increased attention on mentoring programmes and mentee development, we need to pay just as much attention to the development of mentors and the fostering of behaviours that make them effective in the role. We often assume that people with skills are ready to mentor. Being a good mentor, as is the case with any leadership role, has to be honed and developed.

Mentorship is an apprenticeship model. It's a conveyance of skills, thought processes, and wisdom that can't be gleaned from books. However, it’s not only about the mentee’s individual development. There’s also a transfer of professional norms and organisational values – all the intangibles, unspoken rules, and the not easily codifiable elements. In short, mentors in our organisations are among the most powerful carriers of our culture.

One of our first initiatives at the Coach K Leadership & Ethics Centre (COLE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, was to develop a cadre of 40 students (our Leadership Fellows) in each second year MBA class who would serve as mentors and peer coaches for all 400 first year MBAs. In the past 10 years, our fellows have not only helped the leadership development of individual students, but they have helped us add a leadership dimension to a team-based culture.

Mentoring is multidirectional and as is the case with leadership, is not position based, but behaviour based. Good mentors should be cultivated at every level of the organisation. Reverse mentoring, for example, is about shoring our people capabilities up the ranks. And while formal mentoring programmes call attention to the importance of mentoring in an organisation, they should not limit nor define the scope.

Furthermore, as we wrestle with new career expectations and try and come out on top in war for talent, even if we have the most technically talented individual, we lose all their knowledge and skills when that individual leaves. A mentorship mind-set is the organisational DNA buffer against that because that talent would have been developing others around them and facilitating the proliferation of those skills and know-how among the mentees.

Hiring and fostering technical talent can help us succeed in the short term. By helping those talented individuals also become effective mentors, we create something more sustainable. That’s how we build enduring wins in the long run.


Sanyin Siang helps champions to keep on winning. She is the author of The Launch Book, a personal leadership and behavioural science book published by LID Publishing that draws on her experiences as the executive director of COLE and a CEO coach. She is an advisor with Google Ventures (GV).

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