What do the most productive, creative, and engaged workplaces have that others lack? The answer often comes down to company culture — specifically, a high-performance work culture.
While company culture is often assumed to be intangible, it’s actually based on the infrastructure that shapes how employees are set up for success — HR policies, manager enablement, and people programs that balance performance and wellbeing.
Building a high-performance culture requires implementing the right processes, behaviors, and values that help your people thrive and bring their best to work every single day. Here’s how to get started.
What Is A High-Performance Culture?
A high-performance workplace is an environment designed to help employees be as effective as possible in supporting business goals and providing organizational value. According to research by Gartner, it “results from continually balancing investment in people, processes, physical environment, and technology to measurably enhance the ability of workers to learn, discover, innovate, team, and lead, and to achieve efficiency and financial benefit.”
Simply put, a high-performance workplace is one that works well. It’s an environment where employees share a strong sense of purpose and feel aligned with their company’s core values. They’re productive and motivated to meet and exceed their goals.
So it comes as no surprise that companies with high-performance cultures tend to be great places to work, too.
“[A high-performance culture] is more than just having inspired leadership or a roster of self-motivated workers,” said Phillip Lew, founder and CEO of C9 Staff, a boutique remote staffing agency. “It’s more a combination of a number of elements that include upper management; management style and strategy; task distribution and assignment; and systems of accountability, cooperation and help, and support among others.”
Key Characteristics of A High-Performance Culture
High-performance cultures share a lot in common with high-performance teams. They value the team over the individual, set shared goals, and have clear direction. They’re built on a foundation of trust and psychological safety.
And while there’s no guaranteed formula for driving high performance, research tells us that the most successful organizations share a few things in common.
1. Leaders inspire and motivate their workforce.
Leaders have a huge influence on organizational and individual performance. They set the stage for a company’s values and mission, model the behaviors and beliefs that make up shared culture, and get the best out of their people.
But a top-down approach to leadership isn’t necessarily the best way to build a high-performance culture, because it’s less about the leadership style, and more about leadership qualities in the context of organizational culture.
In a high-performance culture, leaders are a key component of inspiring and motivating employees to work at their best — but they also create an environment that prioritizes transparency, trust, authenticity, and mutual respect.
2. Employees feel empowered and engaged to work at their full potential.
Where there are strong leaders, there are high-performing, highly engaged employees. Decades of research into organizational psychology tells us that when employees are highly engaged, they’re more motivated to perform at work — and when they strive for their best performance, they’re more likely to be highly engaged.
A 2021 study on employee performance found that when employee engagement is high, it increases performance because employees are more willing to go the extra mile, overcome obstacles, sustain commitment, and feel excited to immerse themselves in meaningful work.
In a high-performing culture, engagement and motivation is nurtured by autonomy in making decisions about how work gets done, continuous growth, and a sense of purpose. In a nutshell, high-performing employees care about what they do far beyond just showing up to get paid.
3. Teams are built on a strong growth mindset.
How motivated and empowered we feel to learn and share our knowledge at work connects directly into organizational success. According to a 2021 meta-analysis on organizational knowledge, companies that actively promote a strong learning culture see gains in both their financial and overall performance. Meanwhile at a team level, a 2021 study on knowledge sharing practices in SMEs found that organizations with a high level of knowledge sharing are more likely to practice open innovation, where they source new ideas based on both internal and external expertise.
High-performance cultures are forged with growth and continuous learning at their core. When employees know their growth is valued and prioritized, they’re more likely to think outside of the box to generate new ideas, and prioritize learning the skills and knowledge that fuel high performance.
4. Trust and psychological safety are central to organizational culture.
An organization’s culture is the foundation of how employees connect, interact, and perform their roles on a day-to-day basis. Trust and psychological safety are the cornerstones to enabling high employee performance.
“Trust is a huge component of developing a high-performance culture,” said Irial O’Farrell, partner at Pebble, a consulting agency that focuses on business transformation, and author of SMART Objective Setting for Managers: A Roadmap. “When people are trusted that they won’t be second-guessed, or their decision won’t be questioned or overturned, people feel ownership for their work and are highly engaged in continuing to do it.”
When trust and psychological safety are high, team members feel a greater sense of empowerment and autonomy. They feel safer taking risks, making mistakes, and engaging in healthy conflict that lead to continuous learning. And because team members feel that their contributions are valued, everyone is more likely to perform at their best.
4 Benefits of High-Performance Cultures
In a high-performance culture, everyone pulls together to hit ambitious goals, grow their skills for the good of the organization, solve new problems, and do their best. This opens organizations up to a number of financial, innovation, and talent-related benefits:
- Improve performance and profitability: High-performance cultures have a direct link to improved financial results — largely because when employee performance is high, so is productivity. And that spirals up to big wins from a financial and organizational performance perspective.
- Boost innovation and creativity: In a high-performing organizational culture, trust, respect, and psychological safety are a priority. Employees feel empowered to take part in decision-making processes, freely contribute ideas, and share feedback — leading to greater innovation. “Better ideas result in better use of resources, and in turn, the team, function, or organization becomes more effective, thus higher-performing, as compared to the competition,” said O’Farrell.
- Retain top talent: High-performance cultures go hand-in-hand with employee retention. And because they’re characterized by high levels of trust, support, values alignment, and communication, employees feel engaged and motivated to bring their best to work each day. This makes them less likely to leave.
- Increase customer satisfaction: High-performance cultures aren’t just good for employees — they’re also good for the customer, too. According to a 2019 study by Harvard Business Review and Glassdoor, happy employees make for more satisfied customers — and happy customers make for more loyal ones which will prop up the bottom line for longer.
How to Cultivate a High-Performance Culture
While creating a high-performance culture may sound like a lofty ideal that’s impossible to attain, it’s not. Taking steps towards building a better culture requires the right strategy, processes, behaviors, and patience. Here’s how to start.
1. Make communication a must.
Clear two-way communication between managers and employees is a must for any high-performance culture. When expectations are clearly articulated, employees can more readily meet goals at the individual, team, and organizational level. Similarly, when managers understand an employee’s career and development goals, they can better coach employees and help them explore learning opportunities that align with their career aspirations.
One-on-ones are an especially helpful tool for facilitating ongoing communication between managers and their direct reports. In these regular check-ins, managers and employees alike have the opportunity to exchange feedback, share progress, communicate wins, and find solutions to roadblocks and challenges.
Lattice 1:1s make it easy for managers and employees to work together each week to build an agenda ahead of time, and within one user-friendly platform they can also take and share notes and follow-up on action items as well.
2. Set company values that matter — and embody them.
Company values set the stage for company culture. When employees feel aligned with their company’s values, they are more engaged and more likely to serve as brand ambassadors for the company. Yet according to research on company values by Gallup, only 27% of employees strongly believe in their organization’s values.
Without strong company values, or any effort to keep employees aligned to the values, businesses will experience the consequences of a poor workplace culture, like a disengaged workforce and increased turnover.
But by deciding what your organization stands for, and bringing your values to life through corporate messaging and everyday interactions, you can contribute to the creation of a high-performance culture.
Organizations can reinforce their values during the onboarding process and regular all-hands meetings — but they can also magnify their impact by integrating them into recognition and praise processes, such as the whole-company praise wall.
3. Prioritize performance management.
Employee engagement is the engine of company performance. That makes having solid performance management processes a critical mechanism for getting there.
Creating a culture based on continuous improvement and feedback is key — and performance reviews are an important component of this approach. When approached thoughtfully and intentionally, performance reviews can provide both parties with an opportunity to give and receive actionable feedback, set performance goals that improve capability and knowledge, and strengthen the manager-employee relationship.
In order to be truly effective, performance management must exist as part of a culture of ongoing feedback. This means that together with structured performance reviews, organizations must integrate feedback into the flow of work with in-the-moment, everyday praise and mid-year reviews to re-evaluate performance and priorities.
4. Use goals to keep career development top of mind.
In high-performance organizations, part of the reason why employees excel is because they feel that their relationship with their company is reciprocal. They trust that their manager, leadership team, and organization want the best for their career and are invested in helping them succeed.
But to maintain that trust and drive performance long-term, organizations must show their commitment to their employees’ continuous learning and growth with employee development conversations and effective goal setting.
Initiating employee development conversations can help managers highlight their direct reports’ career goals and aspirations, as well as identify the skills they need to get there. Managers can use the outcomes of these conversations to help employees set meaningful goals and metrics that build the knowledge and experience they need to further their careers.
Building A High-Performance Culture With Lattice
High-performance cultures benefit both the company and the individual. When employees are engaged, supported, and empowered, businesses are rewarded with higher performance and productivity.
Focusing on communication, company values, performance management, and employee development will set teams up for success. But deploying the right tech stack plays a key role in getting your people strategies to flourish in the long term.
For more ideas, download our free ebook: How to Build an HR Tech Stack that Drives Performance. To discover how Lattice can help your organization reach your goals, click here to request a demo.