The Truth About ‘High Performance Culture’: Is It Just Buzz?

If I had a dollar for every time a manager said to me “I want a high performance team” I’d probably be on a beach somewhere…

Each time I hear this statement a few things run through my head (as I know they do other HR professionals):

  • How would you define a ‘high performance team’
  • Do you actually mean ‘I want to build a high performance culture’?
  • Do you know what you want that culture to value?

As with any buzz phrase in business, sometimes really worthwhile endeavours (like building a high performance culture) get lost in soundbites and false hopes of a ‘quick win’. Gallup research identified six key ingredients to achieve a high performance culture (HPC) and they are anything but quick fixes:

1. Implement an effective performance management process
This can be built using a merit based system to define high performers, setting clear standards and expectations, and articulating shared goals and objectives.

2. Create empowerment and authority
What you really need to make this work is trust and accountability as a good base to be able to respond to the market and drive innovation.

3. Increase leadership capability at all levels of the organisation
Think communication, communication, communication! Organisations with the highest levels of employee engagement share a common mission and purpose with accessible and visible leaders.

4. Develop a customer-centric strategy
How well do the organisation’s leaders connect to the wider business (including brand, people, mission & purpose)? What do they do to ensure everyone is engaged with a customer-centred worldview?

5. Increase communication and collaboration
How critical do your leaders believe people management is to their role? Or do they see themselves as operational managers with people management ‘add-ons’? For organisations to achieve effective communication and collaboration there must be two-way communication throughout the organisation and real intent by leaders to be truly engaged with their people.

6. Enhance training and development
Prioritising ongoing learning for individuals and the wider organisation is critical to continuously improve as a collective. Setting up employees for success is the best way to create a HPC and comprehensive learning and development plans that complement the organisation’s overarching objectives and direction is critical for this.

I’m really excited to hear from Gary Pert (CEO of Collingwood Football Club) speaking at the AHRI National Convention about creating a HPC because working as a team is a critical (if not the most critical) element of a successful sports club. In a sports team you know you have to have a HPC otherwise you may as well hand the win over – so what lessons can we embed in our organisations from those that do it well?

Whether you’re managing a netball or a marketing team (or you’re a HR professional who constantly has to field the question ‘how do I do this?’) what do you need to think about to embed a HPC?

  • Make it a priority. In sport you want to win right? So what do you want to do in your organisation? Is having a HPC essential to getting there? Yes? Prioritise it.
  • Define what a HPC means for you. Is it winning every game? Reducing complaints by 50%? Becoming an employer of choice? Once you’ve defined where you want to go it will be easier to zero in on what you need to focus on, whether it’s up-skilling your people, managing your environment or investing in a specific function.
  • Once you know what a HPC means then look at who is doing it well; suss out the competition, look within your ranks – what makes them a success? Is it replicable? Do they display the behaviours you want to embed? How do you emulate them?
  • Are you being realistic about what you’re already doing well? Have you identified a ‘high performing team’ that is actually just a team with a couple of superstars? If those people leave then what do you have left? Luck does not equate a HPC.
  • Plan. Plan. Plan. You can’t do everything at once and a HPC doesn’t happen overnight so where do you want to focus? How are you going to get there? Who do you need involved? How long is it going to take?
  • Get buy in. There are multiple times throughout this process where stakeholder management is critical but if you’re going to change focus or make changes ensure that you’ve got the right people on board. Your shareholders, directors, managers, clients or your fans – they can either support the change or destroy your efforts.

Reference: Gallup 2013 research on High Performance Cultures.

The author will be a guest of the AHRI National Convention and has been asked to write up her thoughts on the event.

This article was originally published on the Australian Institute of Human Resources (AHRI) website.

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