3 Steps to a High Performing Culture

Bob Schultek
Author of The Gauntlet

Culture is the glue that binds an organization together, and it’s the hardest thing for competitors to copy. Your story, your purpose and your values are what make your business distinctive. When culture is carved into a unique identity, with an uncommon brand promise and a clear set of behavioral expectations, your people learn how their contributions help the organization succeed. Culture is what enables your people to evolve as your most sustainable competitive advantage.

Yet some companies continue to think that the aim of strengthening culture is to make their people feel good about where they work. In reality, as high-performing companies know, stronger cultural alignment helps employees, and thus the business, perform better.  With improving results as the primary goal, try these 3 steps to reinforce the impact of your culture:
  1. Establish a common understanding of your culture and metrics to monitor it. Revisit your story and purpose with the entire organization. Then, assign several senior executives to conduct small-group discussions with informal leaders in the organization about which of your values or cultural traits need attention. How do they describe a specific company value in practice? What does it look like to demonstrate a winning attitude, or integrity, or collaboration? Document the described common behaviors and communicate them.
  2. Focus on the few values that matter most. High performing teams share values like results orientation (how do we win?), shared accountability, enduring customer relationships, collaboration, innovation, urgency, agility, performance-driven personnel development, or honesty with all stakeholders. Pick only 3 to 4 of your cultural values and focus on implementing meaningfully change to these during a 12-month period. Based on the common behaviors you’ve determined and communicated, monitor the behavioral consistency of teams and individuals for each value in action, and coach towards the expected norm, resolving barriers to progress as they appear.
  3. Integrate culture change efforts with business improvement initiatives. The market changes rapidly; innovation and continuous improvement are vital. Three traits – speed, risk-taking, and accountability to customers – seem most essential to success in these projects. For process improvements, rather than functional efficiency, think first about flow through the business from “contract received” to “delivery” – how might you increase this flow, move faster! Cross-functional efficiencies will result from this mentality.
High-performing cultures expect improved results, and achieve it by treating performance as an explicit output and by fostering an environment that is conducive to generating it.

How strong is your organization’s cultural bond?
How might you drive better results by strengthening your culture?

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