David Smith, one of our outstanding Group Chairs, is also a keynote speaker at many major business events. Last week I heard him describe how ASDA went from £1 billion profit to £1 billion debt in 12 months and then what David and other members of the turnaround team did to get the business back on track, including being voted the number one best place to work in the UK by The Sunday Times.

Of course there were many financial, operational and structural changes made but the number one reason for ASDA’s fall and rise was down to culture.

A toxic “command and control” approach led the way to near bankruptcy. By contrast, a “challenge and involve” environment was transformational, resulting in the business being acquired by Walmart who subsequently implemented many of the concepts David had introduced at ASDA into their US operations.

David has written several books and one, “ASDA Magic, The Seven Principles of Building a High Performance Culture” describes how one thing more than anything else impacts culture change most of all, (again in either direction). David asked the audience what they felt this might be, as he’s done on hundreds of occasions, and once again, no one guessed it, (David told me that to date, only one person has). I must admit, I didn’t get it right either but when David explained it, (and it’s obvious), I realised why so many businesses, particularly those in growth mode, change from being great places to work to average or poor.

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