3 Ways Leaders Can Create A High Performance Culture That Drives Results

When trying to define organizational culture, I often think about a quote from one of our late Supreme Court Justices about pornography: “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” Except in the case of organizational culture, it may be more “I know it when I feel it.” Because organizational culture is something we feel more than see or hear, it is often overlooked and under emphasized. However, I believe a strong culture is what sets great companies apart from the rest.

Early in my career, the psychiatric hospital company I was working for was in acquisition discussions with a competitor company. The company I worked for was the one being acquired and as part of the due diligence we had to provide a lot of information including business and marketing plans to the competitor company. The deal ultimately fell through and I was quite upset that the competitor now had all our plans. My boss told me not to worry about it. They didn’t have the people and it was the people that really made the plans work.

I now know he was only partially right. Yes the people were a big part of it, but the culture that supported the people was just as significant. In other words, even if the competitor had both the plans and the people, they still likely would not have been successful or at least not as successful as we were. The people were able to perform to their fullest potential because of the culture. Put those same people in another culture not suited to them and performance would decline. It would be a little bit like putting a rose bush in the desert and expecting it to bloom.

When building and maintaining a culture, you must focus on incentivizing those behaviors we want and de-incentivizing those you don’t want.

Here are three concrete actions you can take as a leader to help assure a high performance culture.

1. Encourage input and sharing of ideas from everyone at all levels.

Google did extensive research on what made high performing teams work and they found one of the two most critical keys was that all team members — over the course of time — talked nearly equally. Everyone had an opportunity to be heard. For more information on Google’s article, you can google “Project Aristotle.”

As a leader you must:

  • Ask questions from a place of genuine interest
  • Listen (really listen)
  • Act on what you hear
  • If you can’t act, provide the reason

2. Assess what is implicitly being incentivized and de-incentivized

We know what we do sends a stronger message than what we say. If you claim you want people to share ideas and concerns or that you want to know about potential problems before they occur, yet shoot the messenger, you will create a culture where everyone goes underground and problems bite you in the rear. If you say you want people to work as a team, yet bonuses are based on individual performance you will strengthen silos not demolish them.

As a leader, is what you are “rewarding” or “punishing” out of sync with the behaviors you want to create?

3. Acknowledge What’s Crappy

There are good things and bad things about most situations and that is especially true of change. Give people the opportunity to talk about what “sucks” and what they don’t like or unhappy about. The key here is to allow some discussion without getting caught in the quicksand.

Here is an exercise I use that you may want to try

At the beginning of a meeting, have everyone take five minutes to write down everything that is crappy, sucks (or you choose the word) about a situation. Take another five minutes to allow people to share what they have written. Ask them to identify what they have control over and what they don’t. Then ask them to fold the paper up and put it away. Don’t crumple it up and throw it away because that indicates that the problems or issues don’t exist anymore. They do. That’s just not where — as a team or individually — you need to be focusing.

Would you like to explore more ways to create a high performance culture in your team or organization?

I welcome the opportunity to talk with you and see how our Leadership Team Retreats or Five Point Performance Optimization system might be a fit for you and your team. Call me at 972-701-9311 or email me at today. I look forward to chatting with you.

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POSTED ON: Strategy and Vision