Every business and organization seeks to achieve a high level of performance that enables the organization and its people to become the best they can be. Organizations use a variety of incentives, training, and compensation mechanisms to help achieve these goals.
Unfortunately, many organizations also stifle their ability to realize their performance goals by simply having a culture that does not underpin these mechanisms. Without a solid infrastructure of a strong and supportive culture at the heart of the organization, it is usually impossible for performance mechanisms to make a significant impact.
What exactly do we mean by a “performance culture”? Investopedia defines performance and corporate culture as “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.”
As we can see from this definition, a performance culture is something that will be highly intangible. It is not necessarily documented or put into policy, apart perhaps from elements of culture such as organizational values.
A key point to note from this definition is how it references “time”. Culture is not something that just happens or can be imposed on an organization. It takes time for it to emerge, grow, and become nurtured by the people within the organization. It is often a direct result of the behaviors of the senior management team, with new hires taking note of how existing employees behave and acting accordingly. Thus, culture is something that is built up over a relatively long period.
Culture is also malleable and can be influenced and directed by the senior leadership team. Patience is required, but a firm commitment from those at the head of an organization can influence results. As a starting point, if leadership have not already completed a performance management training course then this would be an important and obvious first step. A solid training course in performance management will help the leadership team to develop the core framework for building a solid culture of performance. The key elements are:
- Vision – What is the organization’s reason for being? Is there a vision or mission statement already in place? If not, one should be developed.
- Values – Are there organizational guidelines in place to direct employee behaviors and mindsets to achieve the vision?
- Practices – Does the company follow through in practice? Does leadership “practice what they preach”?
- People – Do people, especially senior management, embrace and live the core values?
- Narrative – What are the company stories that shape its culture?
- Place – How do things like office design reinforce the culture? For example, open offices are more open to collaboration if collaboration is one of the core values being sought.
Once the above” infrastructure” is in place it is then important to commence the integration process. None of these elements can be standalone. The culture change efforts must be integrated into existing business initiatives if they are to become “sticky”. Otherwise, all of the efforts will simply be lost in the ongoing “noise” of daily business.
Similarly, it is important that senior leadership focus on the few changes that matter the most. Otherwise, the task can become overwhelming which could lead to disillusionment. A good rule of thumb is that no more than five aspects of culture should be changed within an 18-month period.
Organizations that are seeking to improve their overall performance need to recognize the importance of corporate culture and how it plays a role in either supporting or becoming an obstacle to high performance. Putting the right foundations in place is a critical first step.
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