The essential elements of a performance culture

There is an increasing focus on corporate culture across contemporary organisations, and a growing recognition of its value and importance.  Indeed a recent global survey by Booz & Co reported that 84% of people in business (at all levels) agree that culture is a key to business success and furthermore, 60% placed company culture as more important than business strategy.

This is great to hear but still too many business leaders pay insufficient time and attention to culture and only address it as a problem that needs to be rectified, sadly often with a change programme or new strategy which will ‘unite the workforce.’

I have long argued that leaders ignore culture at their peril and that a fundamental element of a leaders role is to define and drive the performance culture for their business.  In this way we create the culture that we need rather than accepting the prevailing culture as inevitable, or indeed tinkering with the culture through a series of, often disconnected but well-intentioned, interventions that simply create confusion and demonstrate lack of coherent leadership.

So what are the essential elements of an intentional performance culture?

  • It is ‘designed’ as part of the overall company strategy – successive research shows that businesses perform much better when there is a clear alignment between strategy and culture.
  • It is owned and led by the senior team, with constancy of purpose and consistency of practice.  They know and deeply understand that they are role models for the culture and demonstrate this all the time
  • It is defined by reference to how we want people to behave within the business – not a set of ephemeral values that are so often open to different interpretations, but rather a clear and concise definition of what ‘outstanding performance looks like here”
  • It values and respects the legacy of the business to date and uses this a platform to build forward into the future
  • It is defined within the competitive landscape the business operates within and is sufficiently robust to withstand the foreseeable pressures from customer demand and competitor activity
  • It is used as the central defining essence of the business and as the template for recruitment, succession, and development

I recently worked with the leadership team of a global business to help them define their performance culture.  They very quickly understood what needed to be done and crafted a coherent design for their global performance culture.  The challenge, here, as always, is not defining what you want, it is purposefully and consistently modifying your behaviours and work practices to ensure that you live the desired culture – from day one.

Coaching and internal action learning sets helped immensely but all reported the journey to be “significantly harder than they first imagined”.  No surprise at this, and also no surprise that many leadership teams fail en-route as they seek to rise to this most fundamental and important leadership challenge.

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