I have recently turned my thinking to high performance organizations and how to create them. Though most of us have worked in good organizations (and a few bad ones along the way), few have firsthand experience of really great, high-performing organizations. They are in fact very rare creatures. We know they exist because we read about them in business journals and magazines like Fortune, Fast Company, and HBR. But even here we seem to hear about the same handful (Google, Apple, Ideo, etc.) over and over again. Each year I talk with hundreds of people in dozens of organizations. For the most part these are exceptional people working in average organizations. The question is, “What’s missing?”
Three essential elements
While there are likely many more important elements to creating a high-performance organization, these three seem to be essential in that every high-performance organization I have seen has them.
A performance culture. A performance culture isn’t one where everyone is working 120%. That is a workaholic culture. A performance culture exists when everyone sees himself or herself as part of the larger organization and clearly understands their role in creating success for all. (OK, a little more complicated than this, but you get the point.)
This is the hardest high-performance element to create. First, there is no step-by-step plan to build the culture you want. In fact, you cannot build a culture in the traditional sense of building. You create the right environment and culture builds itself. It is more like growing a garden than building a house. Second, culture development takes management time, energy, and most importantly discipline. The discipline to pay attention to culture, even when day-to-day operations are going to hell. The tendency is to ignore the “soft stuff” like culture when things aren’t going well. Yet, leadership behavior under pressure is what feeds culture. When leaders do the right thing even when it is hard they make a strong statement about what is truly important.
Intentional strategy. Most executives and senior leaders know what they want to do. They set goals and make aspirational statements. What they often do not do is translate their strategic intent into well-defined intentional strategy that tells all levels of the organization what needs to be done and which approaches are acceptable. This is the heart of Accelare’s strategy-to-execution work that helps organizations translate strategy into well-integrated, synergistic, action plans. When everyone fully understands the strategy, they can take action and make decisions autonomously with confidence that they are aligned with management’s intent.
I see many operational executives and middle managers ignore strategy development for their organizations. They see their role as supporting the corporate strategy with action plans. That’s ok if you want to be average. If you want a high-performance organization, you must have a strategy for growing your own capabilities.
Innovation. When we think of innovation, we typically go straight to technology innovation. And while that can be powerful, I am referring to innovation in a broader sense. An innovative organization does not accept the status quo but constantly looks for ways to do the unexpected. To do things differently from the ways others do them and to do things no one else is doing. Innovation comes in many forms, business model, product, process, organizational, and leadership to name a few. In high-performance organizations, people at all levels are willing to try new things, large and small, on a daily basis.
The bottom line:_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Truly high-performance organizations are very rare. The question I am grappling with is why. Our companies are full of bright, talented, ambitious managers so why don’t we see many more high-performance organizations. I would love to hear your thoughts.