Tag Archives: culture

Building a High-Performance Culture

Building a High Performance Culture

Continuing with our culture-related theme, we’ve found that the highest achieving organizations are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures.

When helping clients build such cultures, our approach begins by identifying the underlying assumptions, beliefs and values that cause people to behave the way they do (the practices).

Key steps in developing a high performing/high achieving culture include:

  • Identifying a clear link between individual/team/department performance and organizational goals.
  • Helping people develop a clear sense of purpose.
  • Management devotes the necessary time and attention to a proactive and consistent performance management regimen.
  • A work environment that supports high quality and productivity.
  • People at all levels understand the core values and beliefs which drive behavior.
  • Leaders promote practices that are in sync with organizational values and beliefs.
  • Roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities are clearly defined.
  • Managers are skilled to coach for improved performance.

While these steps might appear simple, they are not easy to implement; and nearly impossible to achieve without significant contributions of time and energy from senior leaders. A well-defined performance management process is also a pre-requisite, which will be the subject of our next post.

What is Culture?

culture2Continuing with our theme on “culture,” and how it drives continuous improvement, let’s take a closer look at defining the term.

Among a sea of individuals doing very different things every day and every year, culture is a thread of commonality. Culture is both everywhere yet nowhere in particular. We cannot see it when we zoom in to an individual or a specific action, but we know it is there.

Here are a few definitions from our Partners Forum as well as from published sources:

  • Culture is “the way we’ve always done it”
  • It is our behavior
  • A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization [Webster’s Dictionary]
  • Culture is self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing. [Booz & Company]
  • Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. [Shawn Parr in Fast Company]

It is not easy to measure, but our Partner organizations have measured indicators of culture.

One organization focuses on strengthening and maintaining a culture of helpfulness. The CEO has explained that “helpfulness is who we are” and they have trained people in what behaviors a helpful culture provides.

Others have described their organizations as having “a culture of innovation,” or “a culture of caring.”

Alternatively, some employ annual surveys of both customers and employees to evaluate the strength of their culture of treating everyone — customers, co-workers, and business partners — with care and respect.

Connecting the dots, however it is that an organization defines its culture, it is important to align that culture with their business strategies and continuous improvement effort.

Aligning Organizational Culture & Strategy

culture4Continuing our theme of how organizational culture is a key driver of continuous improvement, it is important to properly align strategies with culture because culture can support or constrain strategy in a number of ways.

For example, an organization that that fosters employee engagement supports a culture of hard work, innovation, and “going the extra mile;” a culture in which people generally like coming to work. Such a culture enables successful execution on a strategy to give customers better responsiveness and reliability.

Similarly, a culture of caring and respect for others is essential to a strategy based on providing the most helpful and caring service to customers so as to win loyalty and referrals. For example, one of the Partners described how their cultural value of giving back to their communities in donations and volunteerism enabled them to appeal to the civic-mindedness that their customers valued. Another described “maverick thinking” that prompted employees to challenge things that were not quite right as a culture that supported the strategy of constantly improving safety, quality, and efficiency.

Each of these examples described core strategies that were aligned with and supported by their cultures.

But what if an organization’s culture no longer supports a winning strategy?

Sometimes a culture becomes out-of-step with its strategy due to internal changes. For example, a change in leadership behaviors can very easily shift an organization’s culture from engaged to disengaged, from collaborative to everyone out for his or herself, from maverick thinkers to risk-averse CYA’s. Careful work is required to rebuild and to sustain the cultures that support the strategy.

Sometimes, leadership must create a new strategy that the culture is ill-equipped to support when external factors change. For example, a company with a culture that values tradition and continuity will suffer from the entrance to the market by an innovative, paradigm-changing upstart. A company that thrived by attracting and rewarding hot shot individuals may struggle when the market begins to demand sophisticated coordination and execution. A company that thrived on risk taking may suffer when expectation about quality and reliability rise.

Clearly in some instances the culture must change, or it will devour the organization’s strategy and everyone will be out of work.