Transforming into a Performance Culture

Transforming into a Performance Culture

Key Fact #1: A company that simply tries to maintain a status quo will slip backward toward mediocrity.

Companies generally do not find it easy to maintain a culture of superior performance and ongoing improvement. Even when a company “stays the course,” or “treads water,” maintaining a level of performance that they have recently worked hard to develop, they will slide backward toward mediocrity simply due to the relentless pace of change.

And it is change that is both the problem and the solution. No organization can expect to survive for more than a few years by resisting or ignoring the changes that are happening either outside or inside their walls. Outside, of course, we are seeing vast and swift changes to commerce, communication, world politics, and many other forces. Inside, companies change simply by growing – from a brash, fearless start-up, to a maturing company with shareholders and boards of directors, to older companies who acquire their competitors and struggle with the inevitable clash of cultures.

Change is both a natural an unnatural thing. Living creatures evolve and adapt to changing environments simply to stay alive. But that very same primordial worry also stands in the way of the desire for change. Individuals and companies will resist anything that appears different, out of fear of a loss of control, a loss of face or simply losing their place in the race.

Making Space for Health

Key Fact #2: Performance at the exclusion of health will not work, at last long-term.

Part of the reason for failure in achieving top performance comes from focusing on it too much; to the exclusion of longer-term goals and overall company health. Health is a less concrete term than performance or sales. It consists of a collection of subjective and cultural elements, including morale, trust, management practices and management behaviour.

There is no single definition of organizational health, in just the same way that no two people share the same metabolic attributes. There are similarities, certainly, but every person must follow their own regime for health and growth and would do themselves a disservice by following another person’s regime too closely.

An innovation or habit change that looks ideal on paper will manifest itself quite differently when it encounters any company’s actual culture. Typically, an organization will embrace – either naturally or through its leadership – one of four cultures: collaborative (doing things together), creative (doing things first), controlling (doing things right), or competitive (doing things fast). These values are essentially exclusive. Applying a change template to any one of them will result in very different and sometimes surprising outcomes.

Therefore, management theory and how-to books should be used as rough guides only. There is no one single magic solution for attaining sustained performance. Companies need to look at and understand their leadership practices, their employee base, their approach to knowledge and learning, and their understanding of the marketplace – both their specific industry, but also global trends and developments.

They should pay heed to the fact that the most logical and practical approach to doing things is seldom the one that humans choose. Emotion, politics, and tribal alliances step in to firmly drive a wedge between cold logic and real behaviour.

Project Managing a Performance/Health Success Plan

Key Fact #3: Performance and health are attained through project management and continuous improvement.

The ideal approach to building a successful performance/health plan is to take from the classic wisdom of the school of project management, combined with that of continuous improvement – the kaizen or Deming cycles. This comes down to sufficient and adequate planning paired with regular review of how goals will be achieved and then improved upon.

  • First, it is vital to set some goals – a roadmap that identifies performance and health objectives simultaneously. Performance objectives might include understanding customer needs and market trends. Health objectives seek to identify new standards of company health as defined by both management and employees. This is a good time to set goals that are not too far ahead in the future as to appear unattainable. It is also a time to establish a tradition of regular update, reward and celebration, to ensure all members of the company feel ownership of the positive change and will be given the opportunity to celebrate small wins along the way.
  • Second, there needs to be an assessment of an organization’s readiness to take on change. This stage is often underestimated or is ignored due to the novelty and optimism that lofty goals can often present. This can also be divided between performance and health. Health will look and closely assess the culture of the organization and peoples’ individual readiness to embark on change. The performance side of the equation will zero in on specific functional areas, like marketing, to identify the needs and readiness for change within those spaces.
  • Thirdly, every project requires clear steps along the path that include a clear understanding of the effort required, along with contingencies and risk assessment. The performance side of this equation once again focuses on departments, to include steps that lead to cost savings, quality improvements, productivity gains and other measurable activities. Project managing the change process requires the careful deployment of a change management model, like Kotter’s eight-step method or Janssen’s Four Rooms of Change, to successfully broach complacency and replace it with one that accepts and then embraces change.
  • Fourth, as the initiative rolls forward, it enters the control phase of project management, in which morale and vision must keep pace with the actual evolving changes. There needs to be metrics established to measure progress on both the performance and health fronts. Keeping people engaged and connected during a period of change may require a variety of techniques: some that are directly instructional, while others focus on allowing individuals to take ownership of the change.
  • Finally, the culture of performance and change that this project has sought to establish must be able to hand off to one of ongoing maintenance and improvement. It is never enough to seek change and establish it; change management must become a constant pursuit, a part of the culture itself.

Companies vary in size and mission, but they all use human skills and motivation to progress. Identifying and developing performance culture is a multifaceted act that must directly involve the health element, and that must be tailored to the specific culture and needs of the company. Although a path is needed, there is no common path. It is truly a quest that each organization must take on by itself and for itself.

Key Impacts:

  • No organization can expect to survive for more than a few years by resisting or ignoring the changes that are happening.
  • Staying at status quo guarantees a slide backward toward decline.
  • Focusing on achieving top performance should not be done at the expense of longer-term goals and overall company health.
  • Just like with people, a company’s health is a very specific thing. Improvement plans must be tailored accordingly.
  • Performance and health are attained by combining project management and continuous improvement.