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Building a High-Performance Culture: Definition and Strategies

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What do the most productive, creative and engaging workplaces have that others lack? The answer often lies in company culture - particularly a high-performing work culture.

While it is often assumed that corporate culture is intangible, in reality it is based on the infrastructure that creates the conditions for employee success - human resources policies, leadership empowerment and people programs that balance performance and well-being.

Building a high-performance culture requires implementing the right processes, behaviors and values that help your employees thrive and give their best at work every day. Here's how to get started.

What is a high performance culture?

A high-performance workplace is an environment designed to help employees achieve company goals as effectively as possible and increase company value. According to Gartner research, a high-performance workplace is the result of investments in people, processes, physical environment and technology to enhance employees' ability to learn, discover, innovate, build and lead teams, and deliver efficiency and financial benefits achieve, measurably improve.

Simply put, a high-performance workplace is a workplace that functions well. It is an environment in which employees have a strong sense of purpose and can identify with their company's core values. They are productive and motivated to achieve and exceed their goals.

It's no surprise, then, that companies with high-performance cultures tend to be good places to work.

“A high-performance culture is more than just inspired leadership or a set of self-motivated employees,” says Phillip Lew, founder and CEO of C9 Staff, a boutique staffing agency. "Rather, it is a combination of a number of elements that include senior management, leadership style and strategy, task distribution and assignment, and systems of accountability, collaboration, and help and support."

Key characteristics of a high performance culture

High performance cultures have many similarities with high performance teams. They put the team above the individual, set common goals and have a clear direction. They rest on a foundation of trust and psychological safety.

And while there is no guaranteed formula for achieving high performance, research shows that the most successful organizations have a few things in common.

1.Leaders inspire and motivate their employees.

Leaders have a huge impact on company and individual performance. They set the framework for a company's values and mission, model the behaviors and beliefs that make up the shared culture, and get the best out of their employees.

However, a top-down approach to leadership is not necessarily the best way to build a high-performance culture because it is less about leadership style and more about leadership skills in the context of the company culture.

In a high-performance culture, leaders are a key component in inspiring and motivating employees to do their best - but they also create an environment where transparency, trust, authenticity and mutual respect are paramount.

2.Employees feel empowered and motivated to achieve their full potential.

Where there are strong managers, there are also high-performing and highly committed employees. We know from decades of organizational psychology research that employees who are highly engaged are more motivated to perform at work - and when they strive to perform at their best, they are more likely to be highly engaged.

A 2021 study on employee performance found that high engagement increases performance because employees are more willing to commit, overcome obstacles, maintain commitment, and engage in meaningful work.

In a high-performance culture, engagement and motivation are fostered through freedom of choice in how work is done, continuous growth, and a sense of purpose. In short, high-performing employees care about what they do far more than just getting paid.

3.Teams are built on a strong growth mindset.

How motivated and empowered we feel to learn and share our knowledge at work is directly related to company success. According to a 2021 meta-analysis on knowledge in organizations, companies that actively promote a strong learning culture can improve both their financial and overall performance. At the team level, a 2021 study of knowledge sharing practices in SMEs found that companies with high levels of knowledge sharing are more likely to practice open innovation, where they develop new ideas based on internal and external expertise.

High-performance cultures are focused on growth and continuous learning. When employees know their growth is valued and prioritized, they are more willing to think outside the box to develop new ideas and acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for high performance.

4.Trust and psychological safety are central to company culture.

A company's culture is the foundation of how employees connect, interact, and perform their tasks every day. Trust and psychological safety are the cornerstones that enable high employee performance.

"Trust is an important component in developing a high-performance culture," says Irial O'Farrell, partner at Pebble, a consulting agency specializing in business transformation, and author of SMART Objective Setting for Managers: A Roadmap. "When employees can trust that their decisions will not be questioned or overturned, they feel responsible for their work and are highly committed to their work.

When trust and psychological safety are high, team members have a greater sense of empowerment and autonomy. You feel more confident taking risks, making mistakes, and engaging in healthy conflict that leads to continuous learning. And because team members feel like their contributions are valued, everyone is more likely to do their best.

4 advantages of high-performance cultures

In a high-performance culture, everyone pulls together to achieve ambitious goals, develop their skills for the benefit of the company, solve new problems and give their best. This opens up a range of financial, innovation and talent benefits for companies:

  1. Improve performance and profitability: High-performance cultures are directly linked to improved financial results - primarily because when employee performance is high, productivity increases. And that leads to big wins from a financial and organizational performance perspective.
  2. Promote innovation and creativity: In a high-performing company culture, trust, respect and psychological safety are priorities. Employees feel empowered to participate in decision-making processes, freely contribute ideas and provide feedback - which leads to more innovation. "Better ideas lead to better use of resources, which in turn leads to the team, function or organization becoming more effective and therefore more powerful compared to the competition," says O'Farrell.
  3. Retention of top talent: High-performance cultures go hand in hand with employee retention. Characterized by high levels of trust, support, alignment of values and communication, employees feel engaged and motivated to do their best every day. This makes them less likely to leave the company.
  4. Increase customer satisfaction: High-performance cultures are not only good for employees, but also for customers. According to a 2019 study by Harvard Business Review and Glassdoor, happy employees make for happier customers - and happy customers make for more loyal customers, who will sustain profits for longer.

How to Cultivate a High-Performance Culture

While creating a high-performance culture may sound like a lofty ideal that's impossible to achieve, it's not. Building a better culture requires the right strategy, processes, behaviors and patience. Here's how to get started.

1.Make communication a must.

Clear two-way communication between managers and employees is a must for any high-performance culture. When expectations are clearly stated, employees can more easily achieve goals at the individual, team and organizational levels. When managers understand their employees' career and development goals, they can better mentor them and help them find learning opportunities that align with their career goals.

One-on-one meetings are a particularly helpful tool for promoting ongoing communication between managers and their direct reports. These regular conversations give managers and employees alike the opportunity to exchange feedback, share progress, communicate successes and find solutions to obstacles and challenges.

2.Establish company values that are important - and live them.

The company values form the basis for the corporate culture. When employees can identify with their company's values, they are more engaged and more likely to act as brand ambassadors for the company. However, according to a Gallup study of company values, only 27% of employees strongly believe in their company's values.

Without strong company values or efforts to align employees with those values, companies will feel the consequences of poor workplace culture, such as: a dissatisfied workforce and increased fluctuation.

However, by defining what your company stands for and bringing your values to life through company communications and daily interactions, you can help create a high-performance culture.

Companies can reinforce their values during the induction process and at regular company meetings - but they can also strengthen their impact by integrating them into recognition and praise processes, e.g. in the form of a wall of praise for the entire company.

3.Prioritize performance management.

Employee engagement is the engine of company performance. Therefore, solid performance management processes are a crucial mechanism to achieve this goal.

Creating a culture based on continuous improvement and feedback is key - and performance reviews are an important part of this approach. When thoughtfully and intentionally conducted, performance reviews can provide both parties with an opportunity to give and receive actionable feedback, set performance goals that improve skills and knowledge, and strengthen the manager-employee relationship.

To be truly effective, performance management must be part of a culture of constant feedback. This means that in addition to structured performance reviews, companies also need to integrate feedback into the workflow, in the form of everyday praise and mid-year reviews to re-evaluate performance and priorities.

4.Use goals to keep track of professional development.

In high-performing companies, one reason employees are so successful is because they feel like their relationship with their company is reciprocal. They trust that their manager, the leadership team and the company want the best for their career and are investing in their success.

To maintain this trust and increase performance over the long term, companies must demonstrate their commitment to their employees' continuous learning and growth through employee development conversations and effective goal setting.

Employee development conversations can help managers understand their employees' career goals and aspirations and identify the skills they need to achieve those goals. Managers can use the results of these conversations to help their employees set meaningful goals and metrics that will give them the knowledge and experience they need to advance their careers.

Building a high-performance culture with IceHrm

High-performance cultures benefit both the company and the individual. When employees are engaged, supported and empowered, companies are rewarded with higher performance and productivity.

When you focus on communication, company values, performance management and employee development, you create the conditions for your teams to succeed. But the use of the right technology also plays an important role in making your HR strategies successful in the long term.

Empower your teams with clear communication and performance focus. Cultivate a high-performance culture with IceHrm for lasting success.

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