Ten Necessary Ingredients for Creating a High Performance Organization

I have yet to come across an organization who would not want to be a High Performance Organizations (HPO) but in spite of their best intentions, very few teams make significant progress in that direction. This is partly because we often fail to design and execute a holistic process that addresses all important aspects of creating an HPO. I am not a big fan of rigid templates and one-size-fits-all models but over the years, I have created a framework that has been customized and used to design and implement the key elements of an HPO in a variety of situation ranging from green field operations to existing ones in different parts of their journey.

The process, of course, starts with an assessment and understanding of the starting point of the organization and their specific goals and aspirations. It then goes on to define the future state and finally put together a dynamic, living journey map that is executed, reviewed, and revised along the way following a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

While I cannot emphasize enough the importance of treating every case based on its own merits, there are a few key ingredients and steps that are is important to consider as you make your plans. I am sharing those below to empower and enable you to examine your current approach and make the necessary adjustments as you see fit.

1.    Establish a compelling business need for becoming an HPO. The future state of the business results and culture and the benefits to the team members must be clear and compelling enough to serve as a reason to move forward when the going gets tough. The big “WHY” must be clearly spelled out in terms of the greater purpose that will be served wen the organization has reached it’ vision. All stakeholders, especially the team members must be clear on what’s in it for them to make happen. The absence of this results in false starts and half-hearted efforts that not only get nowhere but create cynicism and resignation.

2.    Clearly define the values and principles of the organization and make immediate and visible interventions that demonstrate that leadership is role modeling those values and principles. Make sure team members understand what their leaders stand for and what values and principles will be guiding the organization in the future. Then begin to take steps immediately to walk the walk. Making visible changes to the artifacts and visible signs that have been around for a long time goes a long way to demonstrate that leadership is serious about making changes and they are willing to go first.

3.    Thoroughly assess and design all pertinent organizational design elements in the support of creating the future state.  Workplace cultures tend to preserve themselves and maintain the status quo. Unless all aspects of organizational design are taken into consideration and intentionally designed to work in concert to create the desired culture and results, no sustainable transformation will occur. These organizational design features include but are not limited to how information is shared, who makes what decision, how tasks are divided, what team members are rewarded and recognized for, who needs to have what skills and how those skills will be developed, etc. 

4.    Communicate. Go out of your way to seek feedback and input and listen to understand people’s concerns. Speak in a way that is easy to understand. Don’t use buzzwords that make people feel inadequate. Intentionally design and implement formal and informal mechanisms to promote a two-way communication. Abundantly share business information and other pertinent data to empower everyone to make good decisions.

5.    Transform your spoken words and body language to reflect enthusiasm about the future. In the beginning of an HPO journey, those who have never experienced this transformation don’t know what to expect. Whether they truly offer up their commitment and offer up their discretionary effort or not will ultimately depend on how much confidence they have in a brighter future that makes all the effort worthwhile. A great source of their perception about the future is what they see in those they admire and respect. If you are projecting worry and fear, you instill the same in others. It is of course essential to be genuine and authentic rather than faking enthusiasm but this can be accomplished about being straight about the challenges and enthusiastic about the future at the same time.

6.    Invest heavily in leadership development at all levels of the organization in the context of the desired future. Not everybody knows how to lead and even those who have leadership experience will find themselves facing uncertainly on whether their skills will be relevant in the new world. This could cause some people to give up on leading and just go along for the ride and some others to actively resist the transformation, simply because they don’t know how they will fit into the new reality.

7.    Reward the desired behaviors and do not tolerate the opposite. Ensure that reward and recognition systems are designed to line up with what is expected in the future. Just as importantly, consistently reinforce the desired behaviors through public recognition and relentlessly provide feedback as you see behaviors that are not a fit for the new vision. Treat the offenders with dignity and respect but make sure that everyone understands that you will not stand by and tolerate behaviors that are not in line with the established values and principles. Remember, people don’t care what you say and how many posters you put up on the walls. They watch you to see what behaviors you tolerate. And which ones you reward, directly or indirectly.

8.    Make the opportunity to develop technical and functional mastery to everyone. In most workplaces, a few people who either have shown more initiative or have been around longer or are fast learners get most of the opportunities. If this is the case in your organization, break with the past and make sure that the unlikely candidates have the opportunity to show what they are made of. This not only encourages them and increases their contribution, but it also creates an abundance mentality.

9.    Expect and role model collaboration. Ensure that there are no haves and have nots and that everyone has the opportunity to be at the table in some capacity. Don’t let people or functions get away with staying in their silos, no matter how great their performance may be. Expect multi-functional solutions to be developed and facilitate the process of creating common objectives among various teams.

10. Implement effective results reviews and assessment and renewal mechanisms. The most effective results review processes give the team that is producing the results the opportunity to regularly analyze their results and plan their action plans and then report their findings and their plans. The more visible these results and plans are the better. The assessment and renewal process is a longer cycle that goes beyond evaluating the quality of the execution and gives the team the opportunity to evaluate their strategies and make adjustment as necessary.

Once again, this is certainly not a recipe, nor is it a comprehensive list of all the things that need to be done but I do believe it does serve as a reminder of a few of the key considerations that should be taken into account when designing or redesigning organizations for high performance.

Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at amir@theghannadgroup.com.

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