The Blue Kite Blog

Building a Winning Culture: Lessons from the Kansas City Royals

By | November 16, 2015

I grew up as a Kansas City Royals fan. Although I was too young to remember when they won the 1985 World Series, I do remember that era – George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Bo Jackson and Willie Wilson.

I remember hearing my dad yelling “BO JACKSON, BO BABY!” when I was in bed, which often signaled he just hit another homer.

But, after that time, the team decayed into a desolate wasteland. And even when the Royals were at their worst, my Dad continually watched games and rooted for the hometown team. Even though he was often frustrated with the team, he still hoped they could achieve something great.

It has taken 30 years, but the Royals have finally returned to the pinnacle of baseball success. And they did it in record-setting fashion. On eight occasions in the post-season, the Royals came from behind to win. No other team has done that.

Just when you would think you the Royals were out, they found a way to win.

If you didn’t know any better, you would call it magic.

I call it heart.

The Heart of a Royal

Sure, the 2015 Kansas City Royals have talent, but what has set them apart is the unyielding belief that they could win – even when most would count them out.

It is that positive attitude and faith in their team that made the difference.

This article talks about how the Royals are a lot like James Bond:

“Luck, you see, is James Bond’s trade. Luck is his business. There are no accidents, no coincidences, no unexpected breaks. He has developed luck with his coolness under duress, his bravery when in danger, his deep preparation and, finally, his audaciousness when the critical moment arrived. Yes, audaciousness often leads to luck.

“And the Kansas City Royals are James Bond.”

The article goes on to talk about how the Royals created their luck. And it started with their general manager who had a vision about what the Royals could be. He talked about building the kind of team Kansas City could be proud of – one filled with good character and one that never gives up.

Yes, they hired for talent. But what the Royals looked for was something different – they wanted players who loved to play the game of baseball.

Essentially, what they were looking for was heart.

Building a Winning Company Culture

If you ask me, the winning culture of the Kansas City Royals baseball team is what led to their World Series Championship.

They created a championship culture based on the following:

  • Intention. Their management had a clear vision for success and they believed that they could build a championship team.
  • Integrity. They developed a strong set of core values and hired players based on those intangible attributes – character, leadership and love for the game.
  • Groundwork. They invested in their team and provided them with leadership and character training.
  • Mindset. They created a positive, never-quit attitude that they instilled in all of their players.

But this idea doesn’t just ring true for professional sports teams. The concept of developing a winning culture matters in business too.

It’s tempting to think that a winning company culture is all about adding ping-pong tables in the break room or giving people a healthy amount of vacation time.

While that could be part of it, that really misses the point.

It becomes the guidepost for how you hire, the work you create and the people you serve.

And when you do this right, it can be a powerful differentiator for your brand that helps drive success.

Just ask the Royals.

How to Build a Strong Culture at your Company

So, how do you build a winning culture in your company? Here are some ideas on where to focus your attention:

  • Compelling purpose. Do you know why you exist? I hope the answer isn’t simply “to make money.” You need a compelling purpose that states why you exist and what kind of change you want to see in the world.
  • Clear vision. The Royals built a successful team because their general manager had a clear vision of what he wanted to build. Do you know what kind of business you want to create? Where do you hope to be in five years? This is your vision.
  • Strong core values. Your core values are what you believe as a company. What do you stand for? These core values become the way your company does things. It’s something that can truly set you apart and become your recipe for success.

Before you think that this idea is only for large corporations like Zappos or Google, here are a few Nashville-based companies that are really getting this right:

These are all local companies that have mastered the art of creating a powerful culture. And they have been crazy successful as a result.

There’s a reason why it is often said that culture eats strategy for breakfast.

It can’t be copied. It’s unique to your organization. And when you get it right, it can fuel everything you do (and even lead to championships).

Who doesn’t want that?