How to master habits that help lead a high-performance culture

Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 11:30
How to master habits that help lead a high-performance culture

To lead an organisation to high performance, a strong emphasis must be given to the role of evidence. Evidence-based leaders pursue high performance by speeding up the cycle of closing performance gaps — the gaps between where the organisation’s performance is right now, and where they want it to be. This is why evidence-based leaders give a lot of attention to results-based performance measures.

There are three personal habits of high performance that evidence-based leaders master:

  1. Direction - articulating a well-designed strategy that is results-oriented, understandable to everyone, and ruthlessly prioritised.
  2. Evidence - setting meaningful performance measures for each strategic goal that are quantitative, aligned to what matters and focused on improvement.
  3. Execution - implementing the corporate strategy and achieving the strategic goals using the leverage found in the continuous improvement of business processes.

Once leaders master these three personal habits and practice them routinely, they become role models for their organisations. It then becomes easier for leaders to inspire three organisational habits of high performance: Decision, Action, and Learning.  

Organisational habit 1: Decision is about everyone owning their contribution to the strategy.

For the whole organisation to align with the strategy, and execute it, people must take ownership of the results that matter. Leaders achieve this by inspiring three principles: 

  • Cascade, don’t fragment. Create a line of sight from every team to the corporate direction. Don’t make everyone measure the same goals. Each team’s goals will be based on the causal impact of their work on the corporate goals.  
  • Buy-in, not sign-off. Communicate the corporate direction in a way that engages everyone. No more presentations, reports, and one-pagers. Dynamic and open conversation is the best way for people to engage in strategy.
  • Work on, not just in. Give the authority (priority, time and resources) to work on the business and not just in it. Improving processes is part of real work, not a distraction from it.

Organsational habit 2: Action is about closing performance gaps.

People get the right things done, to achieve the results that matter, when they are inspired to close performance gaps; to move as-is performance closer to target. Leaders inspire this through three principles:

  • Causes, not symptoms. Find ways to remove the constraints that limit capability rather than compensating for lack of capability. To double the output of a team, don’t double the team’s size; take rework and wasted time out of the process.
  • Practical, not perfect. Build the momentum of performance improvement by progressing when it’s 80 per cent perfect, rather than waiting for 100 per cent. Focus on fitness for purpose, not perfection at any price.
  • Collaboration, not competition. Find and fix the problems that exist in the white space on the organisational chart: the handover points between business units, functions and teams. 

Organsational habit 3: Learning is about failing faster to succeed sooner.

When people work on the business as a normal part of their work, they learn faster, and so success comes sooner. Leaders can inspire organisational learning through the principles of: 

  • Experiments, not assumptions. Never stop learning and discovering and re-understanding. Business experiments are the best way to make sure we don’t invest time and money into solutions that don’t solve anything.
  • No failure, only feedback. Celebrate learning — whether it comes from success or failure. The only failure is when there is no learning. And learning what doesn’t work can be even more useful than learning what does.
  • Iterate, don’t procrastinate. Set shorter time frames and smaller goals to build the muscle of high performance. Success loves speed.

Leaders hold the space for high performance. It starts at the top. Will you start?

About the Author: Stacey Barr is the author of ‘Prove It! How to create a high-performance culture and measurable success’