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High-Performance Culture: What It Is and How to Create It

April 30, 2021
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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.

But while culture is often viewed as intangible, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to change or create it. If you want to build a high-performance culture at your organization— and reap the many benefits of doing so — here’s what you need to know.

What Is High-Performance Culture? 

Simply put, a high-performance workplace is one that works well. Employees are highly productive and motivated. They have the resources they need to meet and exceed their goals, feel supported by their manager, are aligned with company values, and feel favorably about corporate leadership.

Research and advisory firm Gartner defines a high-performance workplace as “a physical or virtual environment designed to make workers as effective as possible in supporting business goals and providing value…[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.”

In other words, companies with high-performance cultures tend to be great places to work.

“[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.”

Characteristics of High-Performance Cultures

High-performing cultures share a lot in common with high-performing teams. For instance, trust is a key pillar of both.

“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.

Some other similarities: High-performance teams, like high-performance cultures, tend to focus on the team over the individual, are composed of diverse members, set shared goals and have clear direction, and allow for healthy conflict. And, recognizing the importance of rewards and recognition, the members, and managers, of high-performance teams celebrate individual and group wins.

Benefits of High-Performance Cultures

In a high-performance culture, individuals work hard to meet goals, employees feel engaged and aligned with the company’s values, and teams trust each other — and leadership.

Here are three more benefits of high-performance cultures.

1. They’re more profitable.

O’Farrell explained that it’s common in underperforming organizations for work to “float up” — meaning that when employees are not equipped to handle the tasks of their job, whether because they lack the skills, knowledge, support, resources, or motivation, their work “floats up to the next level, sometimes even to the next level again,” she said.

For example, O’Farrell said, “a task that should cost the company $50 and two hours to complete floats up to a higher-paid employee. This person does the task in one and a half hours but the cost to the company is $70.”

Yet, she continued, because the product or service has been priced around the cost of the work at $50, businesses begin losing money. “The company is now in a position whereby it is eroding its profit. [When you] multiply this by several hundred tasks, profitability comes under serious pressure,” cautioned O’Farrell.

However, high-performance cultures don’t typically experience this type of loss, because employees are prepared for their roles and the tasks that accompany them.

2. They encourage idea generation.

In a high-performing culture, employees are motivated, productive, and engaged. Due to the trust and respect inherent in high-performance cultures, employees feel empowered to take part in decision-making processes and freely contribute ideas and share feedback.

“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,” O’Farrell pointed out.

3. They experience less employee turnover.

High-performance cultures are characterized by highly engaged employees who are trusted to complete the tasks of their roles. “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,” O’Farrell said.

What a high-performance culture is not is cutthroat or toxic. The attributes that contribute to a high-performance culture — employee well-being, communication, trust, support, alignment of values, and emphasis on development — are antithetical to a toxic workplace.

Employees working in an encouraging and open workplace culture where they’re empowered to make decisions and trusted to do their roles are more likely to be engaged at work, and therefore less likely to leave the company. A culture that’s high-performing without being toxic drives both employee engagement and retention.

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. It is doable, but requires strategy, investment, leadership buy-in, and patience. Here’s how to start.

1. Make communication a must.

Clear 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 by Gallup, only 27% of employees strongly believe in their organization’s values.

Since values are a pillar of company culture, without strong company values — plus organizational alignment and embodiment of those values — businesses will experience the consequences of a poor workplace culture, like a disengaged workforce and increased turnover. But by determining the values that most accurately represent what you’d like your company to stand for, and bringing them to life through corporate messaging and everyday interactions, you can contribute to the creation of a high-performance culture.

3. Prioritize performance management.

One reason performance management can be incredibly valuable is that it enables managers to increase employee engagement. First of all, by initiating employee development conversations, managers can highlight a company’s dedication to employee growth. And by sharing actionable feedback and clarifying expectations, managers can further coach, energize, and motivate their teams.

Performance reviews are a key component of performance management. However, when not executed well, they can be rote exercises that both managers and employees dread. But, when approached thoughtfully and intentionally, performance reviews can provide both parties with an opportunity to give and receive feedback and touch base on project progress, while strengthening the manager-employee relationship in the process. Lattice adapts to fit your company’s performance management model, so regardless of whether you run annual reviews or quarterly development cycles, Lattice can help make the process more productive and effective.

But in order to be truly effective, performance management must exist as part of a culture of ongoing feedback. This means in-the-moment, everyday praise in addition to more structured mid-year reviews and annual performance reviews. With Lattice, sharing real-time feedback is easy — be it between peers, from managers to direct reports, or even from senior leadership to teams.

4. Use goals to keep career development top of mind.

Part of why employees working for high-performance organizations excel is because they feel the relationship is reciprocal; they trust that their manager, leadership team, and organization want the best for their career and are invested in helping them succeed.

Reiterate your commitment to your employees’ success by helping them set and reach goals that build the skills and experience they need to further their careers. Goals are an impactful place to channel energy and resources because they contribute to a company’s success and its employees’ growth and development. With Lattice Goals, which helps teams set more meaningful goals, incorporate goals into the regular flow of work, and capture the most important metrics, you can enable employees to create and achieve goals that benefit their own careers and the organization as a whole.

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High-performance cultures benefit both the company and the individual. When employees are engaged, supported, and empowered, businesses are rewarded with motivated and highly productive employees. Like any new or ongoing initiative, building a high-performance culture can feel overwhelming. But by focusing on communication, company values, performance management, and employee growth and development, HR teams can bolster company culture and set teams up for success.