How do I build a High Performance Culture?

It’s the million dollar question that comes up time and time again: ‘How can I ensure I am building a high performance culture?

It doesn’t matter if you’re managing a start-up, you’re a Department Head within a large organisation or run a small to medium sized business whose culture has come about by fluke. If you’re asking this question, then you know, or at the very least have an inkling that there’s untapped potential within your organisation’s teams.  Untapped potential in terms of productivity, employee satisfaction, goal achievement and even possibly to move your business to the next phase of growth. 

When I speak to leaders about this topic, what often comes as a surprise is that the achievement of a high performing team is just as much about them and their leadership style, as it is about the teams and individuals themselves.  When I break it down to brass tacks, there are three key pillars of leadership that are core to building to high performance culture:

  1. Safe
  2. Valued 
  3. Respected

If you’re striving for a high performing culture then a commitment and focus on being a leader that makes your team feel Safe, Valued and Respected will affect the most amount of positive change.  While the definition of each of these terms will differ between organisations, below are just some examples of what it can and might mean for you:  

Safe

The definition of ‘Safe’ in this context runs from the spectrum of physical safety right through to psychological safety.  Ask yourself: As a leader, am I doing all that I can to create a work culture and environment where…

  • People feel physically safe and have a comfortable work environment.  Covid has, for obvious reasons, bought this topic to the fore for the vast majority of businesses in 2020.
  • People feel a sense of psychological safety  where they feel that it’s ok to make mistakes, can raise issues and/or have ‘uncomfortable’ conversations without risk of being treated differently for doing so.  If people don’t feel comfortable to ‘speak up’, then you may be missing out on hearing feedback about how the team can work more effectively.  In a worse case scenario, a lack of psychological safety may mean that people don’t feel comfortable to raise potentially serious red-flag issues.

This can also extend to people feeling comfortable to bring their whole-self to work.  As a leader, this matters for a number of reasons.  It’s an easy concept to grasp that people who don’t feel the need to ‘hide’ parts of their life from their co-workers or managers are happier and are also likely more productive.  Moreover, the somewhat forced, ‘new’ way of working that Covid has thrust upon many organisations has shown what’s possible in terms of flexible work and changed the need for people to hide aspects of their lives (https://www.flexcareers.com.au/resources/flexibility-report).  And those organisations that can demonstrate this just may also reap the benefits of a competitive advantage in terms of recruiting and attracting the best talent. 

  • People feel they have job security.  Communication around business performance, sharing the ‘wins’ and the ‘losses’, team goals and company vision all goes a long way to make people feel part of the ‘bigger’ picture. People feel secure when the business performs well, but just as important is to be honest when there’s more challenging times or a downturn in business. While it may not increase the sense of job security, it will go a long way to making people feel valued and respected.

Valued

This is all about people feeling appropriately acknowledged, appreciated and recognised for their work and contribution they make. 

Financial ‘value’ is the obvious definition here, where individuals understand that they are being paid an appropriate market rate for their level and role.  If you haven’t reviewed your team’s remuneration for some time, then it’s worthwhile considering. 

Depending on the size and type of organisation, this may also extend to creating established pay and/or promotion levels so that people have the opportunity to work towards a higher level and be recognised for this.  

But also remember that not all ‘value’ is derived from financial gain.  Training and development, verbal feedback from managers and/or peers and even setting stretch goals or increasing responsibility can go a long way to recognise people for their work and contribution.  

Respected

“Employees who feel respected are more grateful for—and loyal to—their firms.” – K. Rogers – HBR August 2018

In short, ’respect’ should underpin everything a leader does and in all interactions. ‘Respectful leadership’ in your organisation might mean:

  • Communication – ensuring the team has all the information they need to know.  If in doubt, over-communicate rather than under.
  • Giving and Receiving Feedback – both positive and negative and in a timely manner.  It can sometimes feel easier to not address performance issues in the hope that they go away.  But it’s worthwhile considering this terms of respecting the individual to be honest with them about how they are performing. 
  • Physical boundaries
  • Personal beliefs
  • Learning from others – acknowledging and respecting that people have strengths in different areas.
  • Understanding that everyone is different and that as a leader, you may need to adapt your leadership to an individual.

Regardless of what the future of work looks like post Covid, high performing organisations will continue to need leaders that are genuine in their cultivation of a culture that puts safety, value and respect at the forefront.

Disclaimer: The contents do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Nick Hedges is the founder of Resolve HR, a Sydney-based HR consultancy specialising in providing workplace advice to managers and business owners. He recently published his first book, “Is Your Team Failing Or Kicking Goals – Take control of your people and their performance”. It is a practical response to the most pressing HR challenges, which can be found at https://resolvehr.com.au/.

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