24 June 2021

Creating High Performance Cultures in Growing Organisations

Author: Tim Dive, Head of People & Capability

How do we get good people to perform well in a workplace?  

Over the last decade, I’ve worked with business leaders on developing the right culture within a workforce, and over the last few years I’ve seen exactly how powerful it can be to focus on just a few business fundamentals, that ultimately decide if your team have any chance at realising their potential.   

Many have heard me claim, “the only culture worth developing is a high performance culture, and specifically what ‘high performance’ means is always different, as its decided by the business, it’s clientele or the market”. 

I started to find, though, when it came to culture, it was difficult for leaders to understand ‘culture’ beyond the idea of getting their employees’ approvals in surveys.  They believed all they could do was aim for good engagement scores in their workforce and that on its own meant the culture was positive.  

It seemed, for years, they’d been sold the idea that happy employees are engaged employees, and those people make businesses operate better. Basically, if a majority of staff said they’d recommend the employer to their friends (NPS), that was enough to convince leaders they were loved and doing great things.  

Perhaps its due to the millions of inspiring quotes from the world’s most popular entrepreneurs about an organisation’s people being the single most important asset any business has. If that was the case, why not try to please them?  

While I don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment, this is quite the reductionist’s view and it’s only telling us about half of one side of the story. Businesses everywhere are failing to meet their end of the bargain in developing high performing teams, by narrowly focusing on their employees’ approvals.   

The proof is in the pudding. Many businesses that have high scores from staff surveys are still losing good people to their competitors. Exit surveys from those very businesses tell us those people feel overworked and undervalued, experience a lack of growth opportunities, feel disconnected from business goals and values, and have bad managers.  

How is that reconcilable?  

So, what’s the other side of the story?  

One word… Enablement.  

Employers that have played in the people-game long enough to learn the true value of human capital, have also learned that Enablement far outweighs Engagement, when it comes to making or breaking a high performance culture and retaining the best people.  

Businesses that run surveys after giving employees benefits, flexibility, support, reasonable pay and a new break-out room will see good ‘employee engagement’ scores. Often, they’ll rest on those results, feel good about it all and run another survey in 6 to 12 months.  

Employers that do this miss huge opportunities to develop high performance and even greater levels of happiness in their people. More often than not, surveys of staff are vague, and almost never give a true account of what’s actually going on in the workplace.   

A snapshot of how an employee feels at any given time across the year will often have absolutely no relevance to the many small frustrations and difficulties they face, and that add up every day they’re at work.  

What should businesses be trying to achieve?   

Essentially, a belief in ‘enablement’ needs to be built into the fabric of the business. High performance is always by design, and never an accident and there are 2 shifts in a business’ paradigm that can get it on the path to high performance and happier teams.  

Let’s start with frontline feedback:

One powerful approach is to design a workplace that empowers frontline people to advise the leaders on operational and functional improvements, and ensure the senior leadership value and create a culture of listening.  

This doesn’t mean leaders are stripped of decision-making capability. After all, leaders have the bigger picture in mind and access to far more information than most in an organisation. But, by listening to the frontline explain the difficulties and challenges they face, leaders can open themselves to rapid learning opportunities, and develop greater capabilities, often instantaneously and with immediate effect.  

Does that sound like a team of bad managers, or good managers?  

A business can achieve this through the creation of a committee with scheduled meetups. One (1) meetup to discuss frontline innovation each quarter is great. It provides a non-disruptive routine of highly focused improvement discussions, and allows enough time between catch up to achieve the highest value (agreed) improvement suggestions.  

The result? Quarter on quarter, year on year, employees themselves are making their workplace better, empowering themselves to be more effective, and enabling greater outcomes for all people and stakeholders. This is a sign of high performance and great culture.  

Capability > Motivation:

Motivated and inspired employees have the potential to be high performing employees – absolutely. 

But, in the words of the great Zig Zigler,

motivation is like taking a bath; if you stop doing it, you begin to stink”.  

Leaders just can’t motivate the same people every day and rely on that being the source of good relations and high performance. It wears thin very quickly, when the ability to leverage that motivation to actually do work fails due to lacking functionality.  

Imagine being excited to achieve something in work that you find extremely high-value and important, to be faced with bad tools, minimal assistance, lack of process or systems, unable to get things done, and no one to turn to because everyone around you is in the same boat.  

Motivation dies, every day.  

Hiring the best people money can buy and believing they’re the solution to your high performance goals is also financially risky. In many cases, the more capable and skilled the person, not only are they more costly to hire, but the faster their motivation will wane when processes, tools, systems, workflows and structures don’t make any sense to them.  

When they leave, that big investment you made in highly skilled experts won’t pay off.  

Everything must to come together to achieve a retentive, high performance workplace. Good people, skills and competencies, structure and process, technology, role clarity and communication all add up to create a team of enabled people. And once started, these are alignments that never end, these things must always be reviewed.  

Giving employees motivation, benefits and flexibility is good, but also empowering them to realise their capability is great! This is high performance and creates a great culture.  

It’s the fundamentals:  

When an organisation is new, wherever you start and whatever you focus on is generally the right thing to do. Afterall, you have to develop almost everything you’re doing, so working on any skillset is valuable.  

That’s only acceptable for a little while.  

When teams go from 5 to 10, it’s still manageable to cover for each other and wear multiple hats to get things done. When getting to teams of 15, 20 and 25 plus, it’s time to focus on enablement, developing role clarity, identifying the practices and technology that hinders your team, removing or improving them, and creating efficient, nimble workflows.  

If you’re in an organisation with great relationships and trust, the next step for your culture is to focus on enablement. Work on the fundamentals, keep it simple, and watch your organisation grow into a high performance culture.  

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