7 Considerations for Building a High Performing Culture

7 Considerations for Building a High Performing Culture
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Building a High Performing Culture Matters

Our organizational alignment research found that building a high performing culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies in terms of:

  • Revenue growth
  • Profitability
  • Customer loyalty and retention
  • Leadership effectiveness
  • Employee engagement

With you or without you, your organizational culture will exist and evolve. Don’t you as leader want to have an influence over what emerges as the company’s behavioral norms, practices, and performance?

The Definition of Culture
A company’s culture represents the organization’s “way of life” and “how work gets done” — the behaviors and values that employees accept, often without thinking about them, and that, by imitation or communication, infuse the entire workforce.

Successful Leaders Shape the Workplace Culture
Successful leaders are very thoughtful and very intentional about how and in what direction they shape their cultural norms.

They assess their current organizational culture to know where they stand so they can intelligently create a healthy culture, a high performing culture, and a culture that is aligned strategically with the achievement of key business AND people goals.

So, your job as a leader is to create the environment that gets everyone pulling in sync, in the same direction, and in a way that makes sense.

Considerations for Building a High Performing Culture
Here are some critical considerations as you go about the process of building a high performance culture that is aligned with your business and people strategies:

  1. Strategy Comes Before Culture
    Because your strategy must go through your culture to be successfully achieved, it is ineffective to try to shape the corporate culture that you want before your strategy is clear enough, believable enough, and implementable enough in the eyes of your key stakeholders.  Because your culture defines “how works truly gets done,” it is difficult to design a desired culture unless you know what you are trying to achieve.

    Before you embark on organizational culture work, stress test your strategy to ensure that you are ready.

  2. Your Culture Needs to Be Healthy Enough to Ask for Higher Performance
    When you ask more from your people, you are increasing performance expectations and performance pressure.  For that performance pressure to have a positive affect, you must have enough organizational health for people to have the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to do more.

    The health of an organization speaks to employee well-being, the ability to function effectively, levels of adaptability, perceived opportunities for growth, and efficient utilization of resources.

    Healthy companies have strong, quality leadership at both the Senior Leadership and Direct Supervisor levels who can effectively and consistently lead, build trust as leaders, and inspire others.

    This sets the stage for having a safe and fair work environment, builds confidence that employees are in the right job with potential for meaningful growth, and empowers teams to be highly effective at getting things done.

    Before your ask for higher performance, make sure that you have enough organizational health to raise the bar.

  3. As Leader, You Play a Critical Cultural Role
    Leaders can and should set the tone for the organizational culture they desire.  Just make sure that your desired culture authentically fits your strategy and your personality. Then set the example for the behaviors, assumptions, and corporate values you want to encourage, measure, and reward.
    Harvard and UC San Diego research found that happiness and behaviors are contagious.  They found:

    — If your friends are happy, the chances of you being happy increases 25%.
    — If your friends are overweight, you are more likely to be overweight.
    — If you have a close friend who gets divorced, you are 33% more likely to do the same.

    From a workplace perspective, Zenger Folkman studied 360-degree assessments from 265 pairs of managers and direct reports.  Both behaviors and results were significantly contagious.  People with high performing managers where most often high performers themselves, and people with low performing managers were typically delivering substandard work performance.

    Before you ask for higher performance or different behaviors, make sure that you are willing to “walk the talk” and “model the way” each and every day.  Both your good and bad leadership habits are highly contagious.

  4. Question Which Ways of Working Will Foster the Culture You Seek
    Once your strategy is clear (the WHAT), agree upon the culture (the HOW) required to best executive that strategy.  That includes how you treat customers, make decisions, share information, go to market, and reward people.

    It also includes the layout of your office space and how you allow for and support remote work. Offices with doors provide privacy for thinking uninterruptedly but can also create barriers to open and informal communication. Lack of gathering spots can inhibit a culture of collaboration and the testing out of new ideas on coworkers.

    Every aspect of how work gets done impacts building a high performing culture.

    Phil Libin at Evernote, a provider of note-taking and archiving technology, removed telephones from workers’ office desks, provided bi-monthly housecleaning for employees, and offered $1,000 toward vacations for employees who would take a week at a time.  These tactics were all aligned with Evernote’s desired culture and talent management strategy.

    Before you ask for higher performance, make sure that your environment is helping and not hindering the way you want people to think and act.

  5. Purposefully Hire for the Corporate Culture You Want
    Every potential new hire should be screened for cultural fit.  You want employees to be set up for success. Is their desired culture in alignment with yours? It better be or their tenure with you is likely to be short and unproductive.

    Culture matters in the overall employee attraction, employee engagement, and employee retention game — it matters a lot.

    Before you ask for higher performance, make sure that you are hiring people who fit.

  6. Ensure High Support and High Accountability for Underperformers
    Every organization has people who are not a great fit or who do not contribute their fair share.  High performing cultures compassionately, fairly, and decisively try to help and then move on from low performers and cultural misfits who, when asked to change, are unable to improve.

    Cultures who do not support and take action on underperformers decrease morale, weaken trust, and sabotage performance.

    Before you ask for higher performance, make sure that you help current underperformers to improve or move on in a way that makes sense.

  7. Choose Your “Corporate Rules” Carefully
    Every organization needs some standards of behavior by which they operate and to which they hold leaders and employees accountable. Do you really intend to consistently enforce and reward your cultural norms? If so, make sure that each rule you create has a real purpose and will help to move your strategy forward.

    Try to eliminate all policies that get in the way of how you want work to get done to best execute your business and people strategies.

The Bottom Line
Building a high performing culture can set you apart from the competition.  Workplace culture is the glue that aligns your people with your strategy. Is your culture helping or hindering your people and business strategies?

To learn more about building a high performing culture, download The 3 Levels of Building a High Performing Culture

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