It’s the little holes that sink the boat. Likewise, such tiny things could make a big deal. For example, in a horse race, when a horse comes in first by a nose, on average it wins 10 times the prize money of a horse that comes in second. Now, does this mean that the horse that came in first is 10 times better than the horse that came in second by a nose? NO, of course not! In fact, it’s only JUST A NOSE BETTER. But the difference in prize money is enormous.
The difference between the top performers and the average performers in any business is not a huge difference. It’s just a tiny difference on the margin, they just do certain things… a certain way… a little tiny bit better each day… and it all adds up to an enormous quantum leap.
High performance culture is not dependent on one simple factor or as a result of one or two things. The entire context you operate in greatly impacts your results. This context includes the culture of the business – how things get done, how decisions get made, what works and does not work as far as behaviors and what gets rewarded and how.
The key to building a high-performing culture is to make sure you consider “‘what“ and “how“ you will get to your destination points – the clear definitions of where you are going in a specific time-frame.
The specifics of a high performance culture are unique to your business because they are based on what will work best for you to get you to where you want to go within the parameters you have defined. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to culture.
However, here are certain key elements in creating a high performance culture that probably will fit most organizations:
#1 – Clearly Define What Winning Looks Like – Look across the entire organization and define what it looks like from a variety of perspectives – sales, marketing, customer service, procurement, finance etc.
#2 – Storytelling – can be a powerful tool when you want to drive organizational change and performance improvement. The leaders must be able use stories to motivate their employees to achieve more than they thought possible
#3 – Internal Communication – need to be on the top of the agenda – Have they heard the message? Do they believe it? Do they know what it means? Have they interpreted it for themselves, and have they internalized it?
#4 – Spell Out Your “Preferred Culture” – In the same way that leaders shape and communicate a vision, they also spell out a picture of the culture they are striving for.
This can often be just a set of guiding principles or values, but the best seem to go further by establishing preferred behaviors that support these values: Which aspects of our current culture are we happy/unhappy with? What preferred behaviors do we need to create the culture we want? What behaviors actually get rewarded around here? Which unacceptable behaviors are actually tolerated here? How do we measure up against each of our preferred behaviors?
#5 – Set Stretch Targets – Employees tend to rise to the standard set for them. The more you expect, the more they will achieve. But, there is a fine line between good stretch targets, which can energize an organization, and bad ones, which can dampen morale
#6 – Connect To The Big Picture – The majority of employees want to be a part of a compelling future, want to know what is most important at work and what excellence looks like. For targets to be meaningful and effective in motivating employees, they must be tied to larger organizational goals. Employees who don’t understand the roles they play in business success are more likely to become disengaged. Depending on which survey you look at; more than 70% of the American workforce is currently disengaged. No matter what level the employee is at, (s)he should be able to articulate exactly how his/her efforts feed into the broader organizational strategy.
#7 – Increase Performance Through Employee Engagement – Employees who are engaged put their heart and soul into their job and have the energy and excitement to give more than is required of the job. Engaged employees are committed and loyal to the organization
#8 – Improving Performance Through Transparency – By sharing numbers with employees, you can increase employees’ sense of ownership. However, being open is not enough. You need to be sure your employees are trained to understand financial statements and have enough insight into their own jobs to know how to affect the numbers. Focus on additional metrics besides the financial ones. Employees who are not in the financial world will be able to relate better to the results and will feel more included in the process
#9 – Develop An Ownership Mentality – When individuals understand the boundaries in which they can operate, as well as where the company wants to go, they feel empowered with a freedom to decide and act, and most often make the right choices. They begin to think and act like an “owner”
#10 – Taking The Time To Celebrate – Do remember to celebrate milestones once they have been reached. Taking the time to celebrate is important because it acknowledges people’s hard work, boosts morale and keeps up the momentum. If you want something to grow, pour champagne on it
Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast
High-performance organizations do not take their culture for granted. They plan it, monitor it and manage it so that it remains aligned with they want to achieve. Do remember the famous words of Peter Drucker: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
That famous quote about the power of culture is simple, clear and correct. Recently when someone used it at a meeting I attended, it also struck me that if someone has a strategy that doesn’t include dealing with culture, then they are seriously misunderstanding what leadership is and how essential it is to always have culture as the core part of your strategy.
In the end, the following three overall themes have proven to be timeless in any organization:
- Communication – communicate effectively, in a timely manner, give background information, and don’t have multiple CxO’s send the same or similar URGENT memo to their Departments and expect them to all jump. The often used quote “a lack of organization on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” comes to mind. Nothing lands worse than the bullet from higher up saying I need this and I need it now. Communication requires planning and communication requires consciously thinking about how things land in the field.
- Collaboration – people need time to connect, to get to know each other, and to be part of the process. Consider the above common email issue that happens when urgent messages come from the CxOs. Simple planning, giving the Departments a heads up and rationale can go a long way to soften urgent time sensitive messages. Use the structures you have to collaborate so people know that you care and that they are part of the plan. Think of how one or two simple phone calls to key leaders in the trenches can help soften such an urgent email. A few moments to give a rationale and talk about the need allows the word to spread a little more effectively when talk starts in the field about why things are done.
- Obstacles – those higher up in the hierarchy of things should constantly be thinking of what you can do to remove obstacles to work getting done. Sometimes when you are looking for the enemy you only need to hold up a mirror. Often departments set up routines and rules that not only don’t make sense, they actually halt processes rather than support them. Policies created a decade ago that don’t reflect current reality but simply have become “the way we do things around here” can often be part of the problem. You need to constantly review practices, policies and procedures and ask yourself if they really help. Good policy is essential, and conversely, bad policy is useless and will only end up in people doing workarounds to actually get anything done.
These three themes could emerge in the culture of any large operation when it looks at how to work more effectively together. Departmental Leaders may say we just want effective, timely and respectful communication, time to collaborate, and the autonomy to do good work. Does this sound familiar to anyone? It’s the same themes in a different context.
Whatever your strategy for moving an organization forward, I agree with Drucker and it is not as much culture eats strategy but that if your strategy does not include culture you are not going far. In fact, you may actually go backwards as just another leadership initiative that went nowhere.
Everything you do unfolds as part of the culture. Every person in the organization plays a role in the culture of a business as culture is all about how we relate to each other on a daily basis. What you do today may become part of tradition tomorrow.
Do you watch the wonderful BBC TV series, Downton Abbey? The official US site for Downton Abbey is on PBS’s MASTERPIECE and Season 4 premiered on January 5, 2014. It is rife with great material for leadership, culture and traditions. Mr. Carson is among my most favorite characters as he staunchly clings to tradition and standards while watching the world change around him. As a study in tradition and cultural norms, the series is a gem. For the Crawleys and the Granthams, culture and tradition not only are their way of being, they are the actual strategy to secure their future. I watch with great interest how the future unfolds for Downton because one of the central struggles is, of course, that their personal strategy to maintain their own traditions are being eaten for breakfast by the changes in culture around them. As this great exchange between Shirley MacLaine and Maggie Smith shows:
Dowager Countess (Smith): “You Americans never understand the importance of Tradition.”
Martha Levinson (MacLaine): “Yes we do, we just don’t give it power over us. Maybe you should think about letting go of its hand.”
If Shirley MacLaine was watching closely, she may have seen that Maggie Smith was indeed right, but the outcome is certainly one she won’t expect and it will challenge Downton to its core. Let’s all watch with interest.