People-First Culture at Oshkosh Corp

Behind the People-First Culture at Oshkosh Corp

133: Designing A People-First Culture with Wilson Jones, Presented by Performa

Listen to the full episode HERE.

During Wilson Jones’s tenure as CEO of Oshkosh Corporation, he led the charge to adopt a people-first culture. “Performing cultures are good but performing around healthy cultures are even better.” 

This episode is presented by Performa (now EUA), a purpose-driven architecture and engineering firm. As you listen, you’ll quickly understand why, even though he’s retired, CEOs keep calling Wilson for advice on how to shift their cultures. First and foremost, Wilson says if the desire for change isn’t genuine, if leadership doesn’t model the behavior, and if the suggestions don’t come from the bottom up, it won’t happen.

As the conversation unfolds, you’ll learn how this culture shift began with listening to front-line employees and acting on their desire to be engaged, developed and connected. You’ll also learn how lasting culture change happens through building relationships so your team feels like they’re doing meaningful work with people who care. You’ll also hear their journey of creating a new global headquarters that supported this culture shift.

Book Recommendation:
Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman
Good to Great by Jim Collins

Additional Resources:
Click here for a video and photos of Oshkosh’s Global Headquarters
– Learn more about the PeopleForward Network:

Truth You Can Act On

  1. Ask, Listen, Then Act
    Supporting Quote
    Wilson Jones: “Before all this started, we did an engagement survey and I knew it would be terrible. And it was. But we listened with empathy, and the response was loud and clear. Our team said, ‘We want you to engage us, develop us, and connect us.’ And so we started building strategies that were people-first. They were in front of our product strategies, our manufacturing strategies, our sales strategies. We started with people. That’s our greatest asset in our organization, our people. And we started focusing on those three areas and driving initiatives around them that were really visible to people so they could see we were doing what they asked us to do. Our team came to me after 18 months and said, we want to do another engagement survey. And I initially pushed back saying, we’re not ready, but we did it. And, I was amazed. We improved all of our scores by double digits.”

  2. Leaders Have To Be Models Of The Culture
    Supporting Quote
    Wilson Jones: “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that old video with a man dancing at an outdoor concert where everyone is sitting down but this one guy’s dancing and everybody’s looking at him. And then all of a sudden, two or three people get up and start dancing too, and then four or five more. And then halfway into the song, nearly everyone’s dancing. And I would say our journey was similar to that. I had some real good champions on the leadership team and then that level right below us, that really spreads out wide in the organization. Our biggest concern was our organization had the traditional top-down leadership. Some people didn’t model the best behaviors. And so some of our team members pointed to them and said, ’This individual’s not going to make it. They just can’t do it.’ And I asked, ‘Well, how much have we coached and mentored them around this?’ Because what they’re guilty of is not having the right behaviors modeled for them. And so we really pushed leadership training.” 

  3. Practice The Platinum Rule NOT The Golden Rule
    Supporting Quote
    Wilson Jones: “When you think about my generation, the golden rule was preached to us – you treat people the way you want to be treated. I was speaking at a conference with Bob Chapman and I mentioned that. He stopped me and came up on the stage and pointed to a young lady in the front row and said, ‘What area do you work in?’ And she said, ‘Finance.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You were a linebacker in football.’ And he turned to her and said, ‘Ma’am, do you want to be treated like a linebacker?’ Of course she shook her head no. He said, ‘We have to think about the platinum rule.’ We all learn differently, we all have different sensitivities around how we work and operate. The platinum rule is really getting to know someone and knowing how they need to be treated and working with them that way. If you don’t know your people, you don’t know what they need. But you can’t do that if you don’t know people.” 

  4. Practice Visible Leadership & Create Space for Meaningful Conversations
    Supporting Quote
    Wilson Jones: “I believe in good, visible leadership walking around. You have to be genuine. Be authentic. Be yourself. Don’t try to be something you are not. I didn’t know all aspects of the business. What I did know was I am a strong commercial leader and communicator. The way Performa designed our space and the way the building was set up, there’s a lot of different areas to go to. To have those conversations and get out of the environment of sitting at a desk. Beautiful window areas, fireplaces, no excuse to not have a place to go and have that meaningful conversation. I was watching closely as we moved into our new space, without saying it – I was watching productivity. I’d say our productivity went up 10-15% by just getting in that building and getting everyone together.”

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