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What do organisations with high performance culture do differently?

Creating a high-performance culture requires a strategic and systematic approach to managing the organisation, functions within it, and its individuals

Bhavna Dalal
Published: 01, Sep 2017

Bhavna Dalal ( www.bhavnadalal.com) is the Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners [www.talentpowerpartners.com] a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India. She is a Team Leadership Coach with ICF PCC Certification, IIM Calcutta Executive MBA, and B.E.(Electronics). Also, the author of the book Team Decision Making [https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01MXF5QEM] endorsed by former CEO's of Target, Lowes, LimitedBrands,bank of Baroda, 3M , Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Manoj Pardasani (Associate Dean Fordham University) and many others. Bhavna has been serving on the Board of Directors of Bodhi Education Society (A not-for-profit that supports schools in rural Andhra Pradesh in India ) for the past 5 years.

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To understand a high performance culture, let's start from the basics - what is an organisation's culture? American research and advisory firm Gartner defines it as "A physical or virtual environment designed to make workers as effective as possible in supporting business goals and providing value."

Organisational culture can, hence, be defined as the learned assumptions and unwritten rules on which people base their daily behaviour. It is the commonly accepted - "This is the way we do things around here”. Undoubtedly, creating a performance culture requires strong leadership in an organisation. Culture helps drive an organisation's actions, results, and the output it produces. It also guides how employees think, act and feel within the company. It can be called the operating system of a company, the organisational DNA.

Corporate culture was first introduced in the academic and research community by Larry Senn in 1969, in his doctoral dissertation titled 'Organisational Character as a Methodological Tool in the Analysis of Business Organisations'.

Today, it is almost impossible to find a business publication that doesn't point out the importance and impact of culture. Many companies have failed to weather a storm and folded because of weak culture. Even the demise of many companies that once looked strong can be traced back to its leaders not conveying the right values to the employees and building a solid culture around them.

Creating a high-performance culture requires a strategic and systematic approach to managing the organisation, functions within it, and its individuals. Organisations with the right culture has leaders that take charge of defining the company, understanding what they need, and then have the discipline to perpetuate it. Very often, I see leaders shrugging off all people-related activities to human resources. Many moving parts need to work together within an organisation to set and maintain the right culture. Although leadership and discipline are the defining elements of that approach, they are not the only elements.

Gallup studied 3,477 managers in a research to investigate how companies in the Middle East create high-performance cultures in diverse sectors such as tourism, oil and gas, property development, telecommunications, banking and finance, and automotive sectors. Their results indicated that great managers set clear expectations through communication, creating a trusting environment, clearly defining their employee's roles, and encouraging growth and development of their people. They continuously raise the bar by drawing higher performance from themselves and from their teams.

The key contributors of a high-performance culture

Analysed data from more than 30,000 employees in another research uncovered six key determinants of a company's ability to create a high-performance culture, one that improves all relevant business metrics.

I. Implement an effective performance management system: This creates the biggest impact on sustainable growth in companies. Unfortunately, too many companies continue to rely on rigid, outdated performance measurement methods. The leading businesses, by contrast, create performance management processes that try to minimise bias by: •    Using a merit-based system to differentiate between the range of performers; for example assessment centres
•    Clearly define standards and expectations at every level - meaning the individual, team and organisation
•    Develop transparent and honest reward mechanisms
•    Articulate shared goals and objectives effectively

These practices don't just bring an increased level of value and inclusivity to the company; they have a direct impact on shaping the organisation's culture.

II. Creating empowerment and authority: A great culture is dependent on empowered employees. When employees feel empowered, and know that they would not be penalised for challenging authority, they breed trust and accountability. In organisations where trust and accountability are strong:
•    Employee engagement is high - companies with engaged workforces outperform their peer by 147% in earnings per share
•    Innovation to stay competitive is prevalent
•    Employees understand the importance of connecting with customers

Companies that decentralise the decision-making process and allow employees to contribute, benefit in many ways. Companies with the highest levels of employee engagement share a common mission and purpose across the business.

A very important point to note is that high-performance culture is heavily dependent on the happiness of the employees. Today, you cannot crack the whip and lead in an authoritative manner to draw consistent excellent performance.

III. Improving leadership capability across all levels: The leadership in such cultures is strong, authentic and self aware. They are accessible and visible, and they:
•    Inspire employees with consistent and regular communication both organisation-wide and individually about their own and the company's future
•    Deliver their people with a unified message that supports the company's mission, and translate it to show how to live that mission
•    Connect present role, initiatives, and changes with where the business is moving towards
•    Inspire trust and respect throughout the organisation
•    Involve all relevant employees in developing strategy, especially area experts and high-potential and future leaders

IV. Developing a customer-focused strategy: The true test of whether a company's leaders have successfully created a customer-focused strategy is how well they can connect their company, people, mission and purpose with their customers. Such organisations are more likely to stand out in a marketplace that is increasingly competitive.

V. Increasing communication and collaboration: Companies must improve their communication and collaboration if they aspire to be high-performance organisations. This is just non-negotiable. The best of strategy or vision will be successful only if companies communicate these initiatives in a coordinated way clearly. The most successful organisations accomplish this by:
•    Selecting leaders who have the potential to be top performers based on the right balance of talent, skills, knowledge, and experience; including both high IQ and EQ
•    Ensuring that leaders understand their role in the communication process, both within the company and outside
•    Scheduling regular and open one-on-one conversations to emphasize and clarify key messages and following up as needed to ensure employees understand and absorb those messages
•    Using a collaborative approach to resolve problems and pursue opportunities as a team and across teams
•    Creating strong levels of trust among a diverse workforce

VI. Building a solid learning and development. Most engaged organisations recognise that setting up their employees for success is vital to ensuring continuous improvement and growth for employees and for the company. They view talent as a corporate asset and support it at all levels. This ensures that high-potential employees have greater internal mobility and opportunity.

Most engaged companies also align a strategic customised training and development plan with the organisation's objectives and direction, thus directing employees with clear career-pathing.

How can companies move towards a high performance and sustainable growth culture?
The points outlined above provide some insights. However, leaders may struggle to decide which changes to implement first, as all of them must be integrated effectively to ensure success. The key differentiator is a heightened intent to change and the commitment to change which will enhance their brand with employees and customers.

Organisations that are serious and honest in their intention to create a high-performance culture are those that are tuned into the needs of their employees and customers. They are the ones that will be able to ride the competitive atmosphere to capitalise on opportunities now and in the future.

Views expressed are personal.

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