In Building a Winning Organization, Dylan Stafford shares his hard-earned secrets about how to build an organization that will keep employees happy and keep customers coming back. Besides drawing upon his academic experiences as UCLA’s Dean of Admissions for its Business Management Program, and his work in corporate America, he also shares the perspectives of students and others in both academia and the business world. And then he mixes it all up by adding a dash of magic-à la Harry Potter.
“Harry Potter?” you may say. Yes, Harry Potter. Dylan understands that today’s younger generations who are entering the workforce grew up reading J. K. Rowling’s novels and watching the films based upon them, so he suggests that we want our organizations to have that extra bit of magic to keep everyone engaged in their work and in your company’s products. He advocates for using Hogwarts as a model for how to add this magic. Then, in each chapter, he relates an aspect of work to Hogwarts. This strategy makes the book fun for the reader, and the examples are clear and the lessons applicable, regardless of whether you’re a Harry Potter fan.
Building a Winning Organization is divided into fourteen chapters that discuss various aspects of leadership and how you can turn your organization into a win-win experience for everyone involved. Chapter titles include: Time to Be a Wizard, Falling in Love with Leadership, Telling Your Tribe’s Story, Show Me the Money, Trusting Your Army, and A Global Brain, a Global Heart. Each chapter tells a range of stories from Dylan and others’ experiences, and then it asks tough questions of the reader, questions that require the reader to be introspective and also engaged in the process of seeking change for the organization. Examples of such questions include: “How would you describe your organization’s culture now? What’s working? What’s not working? What’s missing?” and “Who is bringing you a ‘problem’ that may be an opportunity? What initiative would make a difference that you haven’t yet given permission to arise? Write it down and then see what magic reveals itself.”
One thing I loved about this book is how much Dylan is engaged in listening to people. In these pages, he shares his experiences with students he’s worked with who raised questions and gave him ideas, and then how he and his colleagues have run with the ball to turn those ideas into successes. One example is how the student body president suggested to him what became “Super Saturdays,” an event at UCLA where the incoming students get to interview and be interviewed by current students and administrators about the MBA program. While this event requires a lot of work and means giving up some Saturdays, it also means that these potential future students (customers) go away with a positive experience, feeling that not only do they want to go to UCLA but that UCLA is interested in them. This event only happened because Dylan chose to listen to others’ ideas and implement them, and it has been an ongoing success now for many years.
Dylan also shares the importance of networking throughout the book. He describes how, while working for Siemens in Germany, he helped to create a monthly international networking event called InterGREAT! Part of this event’s goal was to change how people perceived the company, which had been founded in 1847. By holding the event in a beer garden, Dylan and his colleagues were able to make it fun and to present Siemens as “not the company your parents knew, but rather a young and vibrant place.” As a result, they changed younger Germans’ perceptions that Siemens might be “stiff, stale, and stuck” to Siemens being “hip, slick, and cool.” This event soon led to spin-off activities, including skiing trips. Dylan was applauded for doing what the Germans felt they could not do-get up on stage and tell people to network, which basically just meant, to Dylan, making friends with each other. The result? A company that can continue to prosper into the future.
This story ties in well with Dylan’s message about the need to attract the younger generation into your organization, which, in turn, connects to why he borrows the Hogwarts metaphor to make his points throughout the book. At one point, he tells us, “For you, leading your university or your organization, you have the opportunity to learn from Hogwarts. Your organization can be the setting for your students or employees to be on their own hero’s journeys. If you brew that type of culture, you will have a winning organization on your hands. Talented people today have choices, almost infinite choices, to take their laptops and work anywhere in the world. You want great people to choose to be with your organization.”