Company culture is the set of behaviors that determine how things get done at your company. It is both how and why things get done. A high-performance culture has a positive impact on all aspects of the organization – employee engagement, retention, productivity, and revenue.
What is a High-Performance Culture?
While there are many definitions of a high-performance culture, a simple way to define high-performance culture is a set of values, beliefs, and behaviors that enable an organization to achieve excellent results and a high level of growth.
A high-performance culture is an organizational culture built on a set of universally accepted behaviors and norms that are encouraged by leaders and facilitated by optimal tools and processes. These help employees work as effectively as possible to achieve business goals and create value.
In other words, it’s not just about promoting good behaviors or empowering employees; it’s a healthy blend of both.
Characteristics of High-Performance Culture
Organizations with high-performance cultures have several common features, including:
1. Enabling Leaders
A company’s culture is set by its leaders. For example, in established organizations, leaders set the bar for performance through their behaviors and actions—a leader who works hard to meet key performance indicators (KPIs) will inspire their employees to do the same. Similarly, in a startup set-up, the culture often reflects the personalities of the founders. If you want employees to emulate certain qualities and not others, you need to be mindful of how you present and perform.
2. Empowered and Engaged Employees
Organizations with a high-performance culture ensure employees have the necessary tools, knowledge, and skills to use good judgment when making decisions. Studies have shown that feeling empowered to act when a problem or opportunity arises is a critical element in employee engagement
3. Continuous Development
To support a high-performance culture, we need to evaluate employee development needs and identify ways to support ongoing growth and learning. This is particularly true for “star” performers or employees on a leadership track since leadership development ensures the sustainability of a high-performance culture.
Change is constant all around us. To ensure you continue to have a high-performance culture, it’s important to be agile while adapting to new technologies, competition, and new customer behaviors.
Agility and a change mindset are key characteristics of a high-performance organization. Organizations with a high-performance culture plan for change and aren’t afraid to adjust strategy, work practices, processes, or job descriptions to achieve results.
How Can You Create a High-Performance Culture?
Now that we have seen the characteristics of a high-performance culture, let’s look at some elements that will help us create a high-performance culture in our organization:
1. Communicate the “Big Picture”
The first step to establishing a high-performance culture is communicating the “big picture” to employees. It is important to define the purpose of your organization – its mission and set of values and then connect the people to this purpose.
A study on Corporate Purpose and Financial Performance suggests that when the purpose is communicated with clarity, individual and financial performance improves.
Employees need to feel a sense of purpose in their tasks and see how their roles and responsibilities feed into the overall business success. Purpose-driven employees will be more engaged and will be able to work more independently and effectively.
2. Set Inspiring and Ongoing Goals
To help build a high-performance organization, it is important to set inspiring, ongoing goals that encourage high-performance behaviors. Leaders should set goals that resonate with business continuity and remain relevant despite changing circumstances. The focus should be on output rather than input – results should be rewarded over hours worked.
Organizations should have a standardized approach to goal setting, make company objectives visible, and cascade them down through the organization. This will ensure that employees link their individual goals to business objectives and align with the organization. Cascading goals promote “big-picture” thinking and will empower employees with a broader sense of purpose.
3. Encourage Innovation and Experimentation
To achieve a high-performance culture, leaders need to embrace innovation, creativity, and experimentation at all levels. They need to create an environment with psychological safety, where employees are encouraged to be curious and experiment, without fear of being penalized for failure. This helps people see mistakes as opportunities for learning, and then they can successfully innovate and perform better.
Tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft encourage their employees to innovate and experiment, and we can learn from their success. For example, Google has an “innovation policy” where all employees can spend up to 20% of their working hours on their own projects. Such freedom enabled the creation of Google Maps, Gmail, and Google News.
While it may not be feasible for all companies to provide such policies to their employees due to time and budget constraints, they can still encourage innovation by stretching employees outside of their comfort zone. For example, provide opportunities to make mistakes, train employees to communicate new ideas, and establish online community forums to discuss new projects.
4. Establish Confidence with Continuous Feedback
There is a strong correlation between regular feedback and high performance. Effective performance feedback will help employees grow and develop, learn new skills, and achieve success on both a personal and company level. To achieve a high-performance culture, leaders must embrace a feedback culture where positive and useful feedback conversations are encouraged throughout the organization.
Both formal and informal feedback should be utilized, but informal, continuous feedback is the most effective. Feedback should be spontaneous, about a specific incident, and a two-way interaction between the employee and manager. Provide informal feedback training to managers to develop their coaching and mentoring techniques and encourage them to give timely feedback (both positive and constructive) to their teams.
Multi-directional feedback is also a key ingredient of a high-performance culture. Feedback should be given “top-down” from managers to their direct reports, and “bottom-up” from employees back to their managers and the senior leadership team.
This encourages a growth mindset and promotes a high-performance culture.
5. Celebrate Success
It is important to celebrate employee successes and recognize efforts. Employees feel appreciated when they’re recognized for their hard work and achievements. Employee recognition plays a large part in employee satisfaction, and employers who celebrate success in the workplace can improve morale, strengthen teamwork, and make work a much happier place.
Celebrating achievement can boost confidence and increase motivation. Showing appreciation can also boost your organization’s reputation, improve retention, and help to attract top talent.
6. Create an Inclusive Workplace
Research has shown many benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace, such as higher revenue growth, greater readiness to innovate, increased ability to recruit a diverse talent pool, and higher employee retention.
When employees don’t feel that their ideas, presence, or contributions are truly valued or taken seriously by their organization, they will eventually leave. An inclusive workplace doesn’t just have a diversity of people present, it has a diversity of people involved, developed, empowered, and trusted by the business. This leads to greater innovation and leads to a high-performance culture.
7. Track and Measure Culture
The next step is to effectively track and measure company culture. This can be done effectively through an online system. Cultural surveys inform leaders about their employees’ experiences and help identify areas of cultural strength and weakness.
Surveys are a great way to ensure that culture initiatives are data-driven and that improvements can be measured over time. Once you have gathered feedback from the survey(s), use it to adapt and improve your initiatives, and introduce new ones. Culture surveys are the basis for continuous improvement and will help you to build a truly high-performing culture with a focus on excellence.
Culture is often viewed as intangible; however, it’s possible to change or create it. A high-performance culture can be created and sustained by organizations by focusing on people and processes and leveraging technology to ensure employees are performing to their maximum potential.
With the changing demographics and multi-generational workforce, it’s important for HR to be an enabler in the truest sense to listen to employees and their needs to create a high-performance culture.