Stuart Lancaster led the England rugby team to victory on Sunday with a 29-18 win over Wales, an incredible achievement born from his commitment and focus on creating the right team culture to win.

I enjoy rugby yet am no expert, but I have worked with many an organisation that has set itself the target of creating a new high performance culture.  It’s no mean feat: it requires an unwavering vision, fuelled by leaders who passionately believe in the ambition of their organisation and who genuinely want people to share that belief and ambition.

Most companies think this can be achieved with the right engagement programme: starting with a roll-out of ‘values’ for example or a big, flashy kick-off conference.  But, actually, it’s less about the big stuff (although it does have its place) and more about the small stuff: the small but significant actions that help create a closer emotional tie between employee and employer and what both parties seek ultimately to achieve.  It’s these small but significant things that sustain change and make it real.

When Lancaster talked of his vision for his squad to ‘do the shirt proud’ he was reminding every player of the honour and prestige in playing for one’s country.  He traded heavily on patriotism to unite the team and he also worked hard to create the ‘emotional glue’ that bound his players together and helped secure the ‘massive amount of trust’ that he believes is so critical to high-performance.

How did he do all this?  Only Lancaster and his team can truly answer that one but, for us as bystanders, his media interviews have revealed a glimpse of the little details that helped paved the way to victory:  branding the Twickenham tunnel with images of other national players who also aimed to ‘do the shirt proud’, for example, or arranging for the players’ parents to write a letter about what it meant to them to have a son playing for England: a series of small actions, big results. 

I’ve seen this mirrored in companies who have taken a hands-on approach to engagement: a high-street bank manager who encouraged his counter-staff to say ‘Hello, can I help you?’ in local languages to help connect them more closely and make a difference with their diverse, ethnic community; a call-centre manager who encouraged people to display photos of loved ones in order to help them see customers as unique, special people that they were truly having an impact on, too.  Even Google found a simple way to break down the barrier associated with risk and failure (try searching for Whoops! and Duke) by creating a light-hearted acknowledgement of how failure fuels learning and innovation.

For many companies companies tied up in cycles of change, evolving a culture requires huge amounts of investment and resources.  Yes, culture change requires an engaged leader with strong ambition and yes, it requires everyone to see how their role and purpose aligns to it. But, as Lancaster has shown, high performance also stems from translating the big picture into small and significant actions that really hit home and sustain the change in everyday behaviour that wins more than just once.