An organization's culture is the foundation upon which success, stagnation, or failure is built. It is imperative during times of growth or disruption. The problem is that often well-intentioned leaders don't make culture a priority during challenging times. Instead, they put their energy into protecting assets and maximizing efficiency.
Of course, those strategies are essential, but leaders need to practice both defense and offense by creating a solid and resilient culture. In a high-performance organization, disruption becomes fuel for long-term growth.
What Drives a High-Performance Culture?
There are five cultural drivers to consider when examining your own culture. Keep in mind that culture defines the way people complete tasks, make decisions, and conduct themselves. While individuals make choices, leaders have the opportunity to shape those choices and ensure people are feeling empowered by supporting an excellence-oriented culture.
1. Leadership and Communication
Open communication about the organization's purpose and brand identity is an essential element of leadership and the best way to increase employee engagement. Sadly, according to Gallup, only 13% of employees strongly agree that their leadership communicates effectively with all employees. Most leaders assume that their communication is sufficient, but they are wrong.
When effective communication from leadership is absent, employees will talk among themselves, fill in the gaps, and lose focus on the mission and strategy. Consistent, frequent communication from leadership is the only way to prevent widespread rumors and ensure that employees know what is expected to move the company toward its most important goals and objectives.
The most effective leaders understand that culture is lived through stories. They use their strengths to develop a communication style that inspires their team. Successful leaders know how to share stories about what is going well. They can connect the organization's purpose to the lives of actual people, whether they be employees, customers, or members of the community they serve.
2. Values and Practices
In many cases, a company's values are not clear. Again, according to Gallup, only 23% of employees strongly agree that they know how to apply their organization's values daily.
This is a problem because cultures that are driven by shared values are more resilient and better able to survive challenging times. Value alignment simplifies decision-making and fosters mission-oriented actions. Leaders who tie communication to the organization's values can guide the team toward the most critical strategic goals and objectives.
There must be alignment about what the values are on the leadership team. Values must be communicated through words and the action of leaders at every level. Values are supported by rituals and practices that shape how work gets done and how employees interact with others both inside and outside the organization.
First, make sure that every key player is clear about your organizational values. Is there alignment among the leadership team? Are there any blind spots or improvements needed? Each member of the leadership team is responsible for clearly and effectively cascading shared values through their own communication and via managers who are closest to the action leading their teams.
Strong values and their sister rituals set and reinforce the tone for how employees interact with others when representing the organization. For example, managers do not hesitate to publicly thank employees who have gone beyond what's expected to help out if an organization values gratitude.
3. Work Teams and Structures
In order to achieve its goals, an organization must have the right strategy, structure, and people. Organizational structure is an essential element of culture. The structure defines who communicates with whom, how often they do it, and what they discuss.
In the ideal culture, teams and structure feel natural and seamless to employees and outside constituencies, but they support the work nonetheless. However, as a customer, you know when an organization does not have the proper structure in place because you face roadblocks or unnecessary delays in completing a transaction or securing customer support. Often, a poorly defined work structure leads to a customer's negative view of a brand.
A good strategy for examining the work structure of your organization is to audit how things happen in your company. For example, are there ways that processes can be simplified or improved to better serve employees and customers? How do your employees perceive work teams and structure? Are their barriers to success that can be removed? Do employees have all of the materials, equipment, software, and support to do their jobs effectively?
4. Individual Capital
In order to build a high-performance culture, leaders must help people flourish individually. Developing people is one of the most significant opportunities for leaders. By replacing traditional HR modalities, leaders can start to shift the culture to one based on performance development. As individuals grow, they achieve the desired outcomes for the company.
Every manager has a significant opportunity to impact culture through development-focused coaching and mentoring. This doesn't always come naturally, so it is essential to provide training on how to have performance-based coaching conversations centered around each person's unique talents and contributions. Investing in manager development is a wise move that can strengthen culture like nothing else.
Of course, it all starts with identifying talent and hiring the right people in the first place. Cultural fit should be a high priority during the hiring process.
5. Outcomes vs. Control
When leaders try to manage by control, instead of celebrating positive outcomes, employees lose trust, and it is impossible to remain values-driven. This is common in cultures where monitoring keystrokes and screen time becomes more important than producing excellent work. Performance review should be aligned with the organization's values and mission rather than artifacts of activity. Leaders can't say that they value trust and then micro-manage employee behavior. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.
Culture develops in an organization whether it happens with intention or not. Excellent organizations have leaders who are mindful of culture and devoted to creating one in which employees can thrive. Investing in manager training, employee development, and communication tools is essential when developing a high-performance organization.