The Journey to High Performance
The majority of business leaders aspire to instil a culture of high performance. However, the notion of organisational culture, and especially high-performance culture, can be difficult to define, let alone apply to the running of an organisation. In this article, we look at the key components of high-performance culture and how business leaders can assess and improve the performance culture in their organisation. This is the beginning of the journey to high performance.
It is tempting to assess an organisation’s culture by reference to incidents or themes that recur within the organisation. For example, an organisation may spend a great deal of time dealing with disciplinary issues or instigating performance management. This approach is problematic, as it can lead to an undue focus on these negative aspects of people management, rather than the creation of a high-performance culture.
Instead, we advocate a more proactive and holistic approach, which involves a structured framework for assessing and improving an organisation’s performance culture. An example is the “V-S-C” framework, where performance culture is measured against three key metrics:
- “Vision and Values”
- “Systems and Structures” and
- “Capability and Credibility”.
What follows is an analysis of each of these metrics of performance culture, in order to give a clearer picture of the practical steps that business leaders can take to develop and maintain a high-performance culture.
Vision and Values
A good starting point for assessing an organisation’s culture is to start with some simple questions:
- What is the organisation’s vision or over-riding objective? What is it trying to achieve?
- What are the values of the organisation? What are the things that management “stands for” or “stands against”?
- How does the organisation articulate its vision and values? Are employees aware of the organisation’s vision and values? Do they share them?
For performance culture to be given the weight that it warrants, it is essential for an organisation to have a clearly-articulated commitment to high performance as part of its mission statement (or vision). It enables an organisation to articulate its aspirations in terms of a commitment to high performance, and to not limit this simply to the meeting of basic targets or revenue benchmarks.
It is essential for an organisation to spend time in articulating its vision in terms of performance. If time is spent on articulating and formalising vision and values, it makes it easier to communicate this to employees and ensure their performance is in sync. It is also important for the values of the organisation to be embraced and reinforced by individual managers, as this will enhance buy-in from employees.
However, organisations must also recognise that, at best, vision and values are only the beginning. Once an organisation’s vision and values have been articulated, they need to be actioned by management and continuously reinforced. The “lived experience” of the vision means that employees are more likely to adhere to it, and also facilitates the achievement of high performance. Finally, an organisation’s vision and values are not set in stone. Constant reflection on an organisation’s vision and values is an important part of a high-performance culture.
Systems and Structures
An organisation’s systems and structures are the building blocks of its approach to human resources and people management. The articulation of the organisation’s vision and values must be carried through in its systems and structures. When assessing an organisation against this metric, it is important to ask:
- How does the organisation recruit and induct new employees?
- Does the organisation have written employment contracts, position descriptions and internal policies? What do these documents say about working for the organisation?
- What is the organisation’s reporting structure? What are the opportunities for career progression?
- How does the organisation provide employees with feedback on their performance? Does it have a system of performance appraisal?
By way of example, staff inductions provide an opportunity to explain the rights and responsibilities of employees and the organisation, promote an understanding of the organisation and its history, inform employees about points of contact within the organisation and communicate policies and procedures.
One aspect of staff inductions that some organisations may overlook is scheduling a conversation between a valued and successful employee and a new employee or employees. This discussion is an authentic and powerful tool designed to promote not only individual success, but also instil a sense of drive to achieve the organisation’s desired outcome.
Similarly, an organisation’s employment contracts, position descriptions and internal policies provide an opportunity for an organisation to infuse its systems and structures with its vision and values. Employment contracts and position descriptions can be used to set clear expectations regarding performance, while policies can be used to articulate what it means to work for the organisation and what is required of employees. The framing of the vision and values in such documentation ensures that they have been formally recorded and that staff understand what it is the business aspires to achieve.
Credibility and Capability
The best systems and structures will only be as good as the leaders who are responsible for implementing them. This means that, in order to have a high-performance culture, an organisation must have managers and supervisors with the capacity to lead and inspire high performance.
When assessing an organisation against this metric, it is important to ask:
- Do managers and supervisors espouse and uphold the values of the organisation? Do they talk the talk? Do they walk the talk?
- Do managers and supervisors conduct themselves in a manner that resonates with the organisation’s high-performance mantra?
- Do leaders have the necessary “credibility” to execute the organisation’s vision and values?
- Does the organisation take steps to monitor its leaders to ensure that this is the case?
A good leader will have traits and values that reflect the broader vision and values of the organisation. Moreover, a good leader will be able to build rapport with employees and encourage them to adopt those same traits and values. This enables and promotes a strong alignment between the objectives and values of the organisation and the personal aspirations of employees.
To build rapport and inspire employees, leaders must have credibility. One way of testing against this metric is to gain an understanding of how the organisation’s leaders are perceived by employees, either through dedicated group discussion sessions or using survey tools. If employees see that leaders are walking the talk, this can enhance the performance culture within the organisation.
An effective starting point in the journey to high performance is to conduct a culture audit. This enables an organisation to gain an understanding of its performance culture as its stands. It can help an organisation understand the strengths and weaknesses of its performance culture and the areas in which there is scope for improvement. Using the simple V-S-C framework, an organisation can use the findings of an audit to embark on a journey towards a culture of high performance. At the same time, this approach can highlight where problems exist, and therefore prevent costly and time-consuming people management issues that can impact on the effective and productive functioning of the organisation.
PCS regularly conducts culture audits and works with organisations nationally and globally to implement a high-performance culture in their organisations. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the PCS Directors for further information.