In Pursuit of High Performance: Part II
What comes to mind when you hear the term high performance? And how would you react if you heard a rumor that your CEO was determined to turn your organization into a team of “high performers”?
Would your jaw clench? How about your gut? Would you imagine – or even worse, remember – punishing work schedules, burnout-level stress, compromised health and personal sacrifice, all in pursuit of some mythical payoff?
That sounds like a recipe for high anxiety, not high performance.
Achieving and maintaining high performance is often confused with endurance, raw grit and determination, i.e., “no pain no gain.” In reality, pushing through the pain only further tasks our already exhausted capacities, leaving us feeling depleted, discouraged and unequal to the challenges that never stop arriving at our doorstep. Working through the pain is more performative than performance-building. It’s an ineffective holdover from back when martyring yourself for the enterprise was seen as a way to get ahead. It doesn’t pay off for neither the individual nor the organization.
In a previous article, I introduced a better way to create high performance: equipping your employees with the tools to bring their best selves to the job each day. That process starts with acknowledging that as human beings, our internal world matters. “We are not robots,” as the values statement of one software company reads. Our mindset, attitude and mood impact both our individual work product and our contribution to the work product of our team or business unit.
At the Achieve Institute, we recognize that while individuals contribute to the whole, so the whole also contributes to each individual performer. Simply put, your organization’s culture profoundly influences individual and team performance. Yet far too many leaders consider culture to be a catch-all term somehow associated with corporate mission and philosophy but having little impact or relevance on day-to-day business operations.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As one cautionary adage puts it, “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast.” That’s because culture determines the mindsets, attitudes and behaviors that prevail throughout the day-to-day operations of an organization.
When management consultants are hired to guide an organization through change, their guidance may include training employees to become proficient with new systems, processes, methods, ways and means. That’s all fine. But any organization undertaking a transformative initiative without specifically addressing culture does so at its own peril: industry research reports that more than 70% of transformations fail – that is, don’t deliver the desired outcomes – and the intangibles of culture are often implicated in the breakdown. That’s why examining and upgrading culture is an essential element of Achieve performance training.
Whenever an organization is under significant pressure to change (and today this is true of virtually every organization) the workplace culture may either significantly accelerate or frustrate the desired transformation, or may do some of both. A successful transformation requires first understanding your organization’s existing culture – those unwritten rules, assumptions and norms – and then identifying what elements will need to shift or transform.
This doesn’t happen naturally, because most transition plans are unconsciously oriented backward, anchored in past performance and focused on fixing past problems. Creating a high-performance culture requires a clear destination and step-by-step process to define and realize a future state of optimal performance.
Once your culture is aligned toward creating future states of performance, the seemingly miraculous happens. Employees realize they have the power to create a future work environment where they can thrive and the organization can prosper. Fear of the unknown diminishes and resistance to change evaporates. As employees begin to trust in their own expanded capacities and new sense of agency, friction disappears and previously insurmountable barriers give way. That’s when transformation happens.
If your enterprise leadership isn’t open to cultural transformation as an essential ingredient to creating high performance, start smaller. Subsidiaries, business units, operating divisions, even teams have their own cultures and nothing persuades like success. Once you’ve racked up a sustained boost in sales, or prodigious cost reduction, or impressive gains in customer satisfaction, others in your company will come asking how you did it. And you’ll have an answer: when you transform your culture, the path to high performance will reveal itself.