An organization’s ability to rise to challenges depends on the strength of its culture. Workplace culture, while difficult to measure or quantify, has an enormous impact on a company’s success. A high-performance culture brings benefits beyond simply resilience to difficult times. It is the model every organization, no matter its industry or size, should strive for. Let’s explore what makes a high-performance culture and steps individuals can take to create positive change in their workplace.
What is a High-Performance Culture?
High-performance culture is a workplace culture where employees operate under high standards, hold themselves accountable, work hard, and accomplish their goals. In a high-performance culture, each individual understands their role in helping the company meet its goals and maintain operations. Individuals work in roles that are well-suited to their skills and preferences; upskilling, growth opportunities, and continuing education are the norm. No one is pigeonholed or viewed as replaceable. Employees have a keen sense of the value they bring to the organization, and they are rewarded for their good work. Rather than a strict hierarchy based on outdated, exclusionary values, a high-performance culture operates with collaboration, open-mindedness, and creativity.
We call this high-performance culture because in this environment, all individuals are operating synchronously, at their highest possible level of achievement, and with a clear vision of shared purpose and values.
Benefits of High-Performance Cultures
Employees and employers both enjoy the benefits of a high-performance culture. Here are a few ways a high-performance culture at work is in everyone’s best interest.
- Employees enjoy coming to work. Much of a business’ performance can be traced back to employee satisfaction. Employees who are happy and fulfilled at work are more productive. Pandemic-related stress and burnout, combined with unique economic factors, have caused a high amount of churn in the workforce over the last few months. This time has come to be known as the Great Resignation because millions of Americans quit their jobs each month. Though the worst of the Great Resignation appears to be over, workplace attrition is still high, and retaining employees should be a top priority. It goes without saying– satisfied employees are less likely to quit.
- Organizations are more efficient. A key component of a high-performance culture is that each employee works in a role that is well-suited for their abilities. The company fully utilizes each employee’s skills and doesn’t demand the impossible. Employees have faith in their ability to accomplish their duties and managers don’t end up wasting time doing low-level tasks. Proper distribution of tasks and responsibilities can save time and money.
- High-performance cultures can better absorb risk. Creativity and innovation are what keep businesses on the cutting edge. Both require some level of risk; often, the more innovative an idea, the more risky it is to implement. And while all businesses expect some risk as a matter of course, risk tolerance must be higher for any company truly interested in pushing the envelope. High-performance cultures provide the reliable foundation organizations need to take risks. With happy employees, efficient organizational structure, and a purpose-led vision, these companies can take risks in other areas with faith that their good policy can absorb potential consequences.
- Organizations are prepared for growth. If your company received a sudden influx of funding, media attention, or new sales, would you be prepared to grow quickly while maintaining your standards? Many businesses struggle to find direction or stability during periods of high growth. It’s rare to be truly prepared for the fast-paced growth that one of those opportunities might bring. But a high-performance culture is well-organized and prepared for these possibilities. This is a huge advantage, as growth opportunities often do arrive unexpectedly, and it’s in your best interest to be in a position to take full advantage of them.
Characteristics of High-Performance Cultures
High-performance cultures share a few key characteristics. Here are some of the defining factors that set high-performance cultures apart.
High-performing workplaces value collaboration. Not only do they understand the benefits of collaboration, they prioritize and reward it within the workplace. Teamwork and collaboration take real concerted effort from employees, especially for teams that work entirely remotely. High-performance cultures make room for collaboration to occur naturally by prioritizing social spaces at work and community discussion through tools like Slack.
Employees long to feel like they’re making a difference through their work. In one survey, 10% of workers said they’d take a significant pay cut if it meant they could work for a company that prioritized environmental causes and sustainability, for example. High-performing companies know that corporate values are more than just priorities selected by a focus group. They can (and should) be strong principles that are used to guide decision-making at every level of an organization. And while the Great Resignation was triggered by a number of cultural and economic sea changes, one significant influence was the mindset shift triggered by the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the fragility of our institutions and social normalcy increasingly obvious, many folks have found themselves reevaluating what they truly want at work. This is likely a factor contributing to the ever-growing number of employees who say they strongly value working for an employer with ethical, purpose-driven values.
A high-performance culture is, by definition, agile. That’s because an efficient, intelligent distribution of labor and resources prepares an organization to respond to challenges quickly and effectively. A culture that is collaborative and forward-thinking is willing to try new things and take risks to find the best possible response to a problem rather than defaulting to the way things “have always been done.”
In many ways, the quality of open-mindedness underpins many of the other key characteristics of a high-performance culture. Equanimity and curiosity are necessary to collaboration. Creativity requires these skills as well. And of course, open-mindedness goes along with an appreciation for diversity and the importance of inclusion at work. Diverse teams perform better, and an inclusive culture can broaden access to opportunities for those from underrepresented communities.
Creativity is a skill that can be cultivated by anyone, but often the drudgery or the irritation of micromanagement crushes it before it can emerge at work. This is a shame, because creative thought is the foundation for so much profound and important work. High-performance cultures value creativity. After all, it is the highest level of knowledge according to Bloom’s taxonomy. The supportive culture of a high-performance organization gives employees space and time to grow their creative skills.
Even with all of its potential, a high-performance culture knows when to push for progress and when to respect the limits of what’s possible. Gunning for uninhibited growth at any cost or assigning employees tasks without the resources they need to complete them are not cunning business moves. They’re a ticket to overwork, burnout, employee turnover, and throwing away the very values that created your success. A high-performance culture is all about finding balance in all things.
How to Create a High-Performance Culture
By now you understand the benefits of cultivating a high-performance culture. Here are a few steps you can take to begin to foster a high-performance culture within your work community.
Establish a baseline
Before taking any action to build a high-performance culture, you need a clear picture of the current work culture within your organization. However, it isn’t easy to see your own work culture with a clear perspective free from bias, which is why we recommend working with an external management consulting firm or HR consultant. These professionals are highly skilled and can accurately assess your work culture’s strengths and areas for growth. If you don’t want to go that route, create an internal team to review your work culture. Choose individuals with different backgrounds and specialties to get the broadest, most objective view of how you’re doing. Here are a few guiding questions you can use to get the conversation started.
- Are there areas of waste within our organization? Are there areas in need of more funding or support?
- Have we met or exceeded our financial goals for this year? This quarter?
- Are we growing?
- Will our business exist in ten years? Are we looking forward to tomorrow’s challenges?
- Are we retaining our employees?
- Are people happy to work here? Have there been any unexpected workplace conflicts lately?
Asking for employee feedback is a critical step in establishing a culture baseline and in pinpointing actionable moves your team can take to create a high-performance culture. Culture isn’t set by managers or C-suite executives—it’s created in the small interactions employees share. High-performance culture grows in collaborative, supportive, and kind communities. If you want to create a high-performance culture in your organization, you’d do well to figure out what your employees want and need.
Low pay, lack of growth opportunities, poor management, and a lack of childcare, flexibility, and benefits were among the top reasons people left their jobs during the Great Resignation. Employees want fair wages, paid parental leave, remote and flexible work, and good benefits. They want to be able to have children without spending their entire paycheck on childcare or going into debt to cover the bills while taking unpaid parental leave. Between skyrocketing inflation and the pre-existing wage gap, lingering economic instability from the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting women and people of color the hardest. Money is a top concern for nearly everyone, especially when it comes to making career decisions. Competitive pay that accounts for the rising cost of living, flexible work hours, and generous paid parental leave can go a long way towards improving employee satisfaction and therefore improving performance.
Clarify your values
What are your company values? Are employees recognized and rewarded for exhibiting these qualities, or are other traits encouraged instead? A strong shared value system can build community and simplify decision-making. If your corporate mission doesn’t play a role in company decision-making, it’s probably time for a revamp. Using what you learn from your employees, draw on your existing strengths and values to create a concise mission statement that folks across the organization can use to make key business decisions.
One of the most commonly cited reasons employees leave their jobs is a lack of growth opportunities. People want to feel valued by their employer, and without opportunities for growth or tangible investment in their development, they may grow frustrated and quit in favor of better opportunities elsewhere. In addition to being terrible for employee morale, this is a huge wasted opportunity for employers. After all, it costs far more to hire a new employee than it does to help an existing employee develop new skills or switch into a role with a different department that is a better fit. Make curiosity and learning a priority in your workplace! Whether it’s group classes (a great opportunity to build collaboration and boost morale), reimbursement for continuing education, or a block of time set aside during the work week for personal projects, investing in your employees’ growth will bring great returns. Not only will employees grow in their satisfaction and skills, they’ll also have tangible proof that you’re invested in them for the long haul.
Collaboration is a powerful tool for any organization, but it doesn’t always come naturally—especially to teams that work entirely remote or are separated by significant geographical distance. It’s up to the organization to create an environment that fosters collaboration and rewards teamwork. Successful teams need time and space to problem solve together. Don’t micromanage– give independent, highly-skilled people the opportunity to work things out together and they’ll probably need a lot less guidance than you’d think.
But creating a culture of collaboration means going beyond work teams for short-term projects. It means making spaces for your employees to connect, bond, and enjoy each other’s company. Work friendships aren’t necessary to collaborate successfully at work, but they do make everything easier and more enjoyable. Work social events like trips, happy hours, team volunteering, and employee resource groups (ERGs) build a strong community that makes collaborating on work projects come naturally.
Reward the good
Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator! Nudge your work culture in the right direction by rewarding behaviors you want to see more of. Rewarding employees for demonstrating your company core values fosters an atmosphere of support, positivity, and community. In fact, rewards are one of the few ways companies can intentionally create meaningful culture change. Fond’s employee recognition platform makes it easy for employees to recognize each other at work with both monetary and non-monetary rewards. It’s a great way to boost morale at work while uplifting employees who are creating the positive cultural change you want to see.
Creating real, powerful cultural change within an organization is difficult. Too often we’re occupied by daily crises that we lose the forest for the trees. However, it’s vital that we devote energy to fostering a high-performance culture so that employees can reach their full potential and our organization can successfully fulfill its mission. To find out more about how you can encourage a high-performance culture in your organization, request a demo of our employee rewards and recognition program and we’ll be happy to walk you through our solution. Reward your employees for their contributions and see them grow in response!