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 Chuck SchaefferThe Five Pillars of a High-Performance Company Culture

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A high-performance culture uplifts strategy and is precursor to business transformation. In my three decades of consulting, from the Fortune 50 to the Fortune 5000, I've never witnessed sustained business growth or successful business transformation without a high-performance culture.

While strategy delivers a roadmap to move the organization from vision to action, culture delivers the informal ethos and norms to move the organization from the status quo to something greater.

And while strategy is precisely measurable, culture is implicit in the shared values, unspoken behaviors and social norms that recognize what is encouraged, discouraged, rewarded and penalized. But despite the imprecise measurement, most leaders recognize culture is far more powerful than strategy. In the infamous words of Peter Drucker, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

There is no single path to a great culture, however, there are five pillars common among high-performance cultures.

The first is a clear vision with inspiring purpose. The company's vision is its true North. Leadership communicates the vision frequently and management ensure staff understand how they contribute to the journey. A good vision is clear, compelling and inspirational. It instills pride and creates an emotional staff experience. Most visions are aspirational, such as solving a complex problem, doing something that has never been done, doing something better than anybody else or arriving to a destination.

The second pillar is a unique identify that stands for something. Companies may have identities as pioneers, innovators, disruptors or even outliers. These cultural identities create an image that people want to be a part of and an energy that permeates the organization.

The third pillar of a high performance business culture is a focus on results. These companies reward performance and provide the freedom to innovate how work gets done. They listen, engage and empower employees. However, empowerment is not without oversight and responsibility, and must be balanced with transparency, inspection, adaptation and accountability. They also know how to induce change when results fall short or the current plan isn't working.

They typically excel in core competencies such as communication, collaboration and engagement. A well cited Towers Perrin global workforce study found that of 90,000 global workers only 23% of staff consider themselves highly engaged. These staff are quite likely part of high performance cultures.

Team-based collaboration generally doesn't occur naturally. Management will have to provide direction, coaching and rewards to shift the all too common individualism and lone wolf mentality to the sharing of ideas and knowledge among teams. When management promote team collaboration from top to bottom, align staff in the pursuit of common goals, remove actual or perceived individual competition barriers, and reward team-based outcomes, high performing teams will steadily evolve. Eventually they will advance under their own momentum.

Companies that focus on outcomes reward high performers, coach average performers to high performance levels, and manage performance improvement plans for low performers. In high performance organizations, there is no place for low performers. Maintaining low performers renders mediocrity acceptable and erodes culture. Mediocrity is eliminated in all parts of high performance organizations.

The fourth pillar is member responsibility to the community. Defined cultures infer what it means to be a member. Those that accept the responsibility are part of a team that share a bond and sense of community. Those that disregard the community bond find themselves outside the community, and ultimately outside the company.

The final pillar is continuous reinvention. Every industry is incurring increased disruption and decreased member longevity. More than half of the names of companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000. In the next three years, as many as three quarters of Fortune 500 companies will be names we do not recognize today.

Being complacent, inert or passive when facing unprecedented levels of customer disruption and fundamental industry change is a one-way ticket to irrelevance and business decline. Accelerated disruption is upending the competitive pecking order at an increased pace. Fortunately, that creates an opportunity for forward looking organizations. Companies with high-performance cultures are continuously innovating, evolving and reinventing themselves. They choose to be the disruptors rather than the disrupted.

Culture is a Choice

Every company has a culture. Most low performance cultures are a consequence of unplanned actions, unforeseen behaviors and random outcomes. In contrast, high performance cultures are proactively designed and in a constant state of awareness and improvement.

High performance cultures and sustained business growth are inextricably linked. If you want to see some real-world examples, just read the trade magazines in your industry. These companies have stories of impressive growth, market dominance, customer success and the conquering of competitors. At first glance it can look like their success is the result of a product, service or charismatic leader. But these companies are likely the first to admit that products and services are easily copied and charismatic leaders are over-rated. A deeper look will show how these companies subscribed to some or all of the five characteristics of high-performance cultures, and as a result created their future by doing something unique and bigger than themselves. End

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High performance cultures and sustained business growth are inextricably linked.

 

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