How to Create a High-Performance Company Culture

Corporate culture is both the biggest enabler of strategy and business performance, and the main obstacle to change and transformation. But most business leaders know that. What most don't know is how to achieve a high-performance growth culture that energizes staff, increases productivity, improves employee loyalty, boosts revenues and grows the company.

We know a high performance culture when we see it – in a business, a sports team or any group that competes. They consistently deliver results, and have fun doing it. What most don't know is why it works, how you can have fun doing it and how to create it. To answer these questions, below is a summary of the Johnny Grow Culture By Design framework.

Company Culture Framework

Step 1 is culture design

A company culture is thoughtfully defined by its ideology, which normally includes an identity, purpose, vision, values and behaviors. Some companies may want to start with a blank slate and create these culture building blocks from scratch. Others may want to understand if what they already have is working. An assessment can determine if there is a gap between the lofty mission or noble values displayed on the walls, and how people act.

In an assessment it's important not to support or defend the existing mission and other ideology statements, as you just want to see if staff understand, value and use these declarations as guidelines.

Corporate cultures described with vague or hollow words don't mean anything. Clarity and authenticity are required for growth cultures.

The ideology must define and clarify the desired culture, leadership must communicate the ideology, and management must model, coach, measure and reinforce the supporting actions, behaviors and norms that make it real.


Step 2 is to design the employee experience

This is an exercise in human development and the optimization of talent. The employee experience is the employee's perception of his or her job and employer, based on the totality of experiences during their employment period. It's composed of four factors.

  1. An emotional experience, that is driven by intrinsic values such as assimilation, inclusion, fulfillment and social interactions
  2. A physical experience, that is impacted by shared space, personal space, office layout, furniture design, environmental elements (such as light intensity, natural or halogen lights, ambient noise, temperature and color patterns) and proximity to others
  3. The work effort, which includes the methods, processes and technologies which collectively determine how work gets done, and
  4. The reasons for work, which vary by person but often include things like compensation, benefits, flexibility, recognition, career advancement (training or promotion), and work-life balance.

David Johnson, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research advises that "Customer experience has been a focus for years. Employee experience is now being recognized as the other half of the equation for success." Customer experience management is tasked with delivering rewarding and memorable experiences that delight customers. Employee experience design is no different and should follow the same principals.


Step 3 is to create the manager experience

This step includes the following.

  • Advance the culture ideology. Managers must communicate, model, coach, measure and reinforce the culture ideology. Staff follow the queues of their leaders. When leaders and managers model the desired behaviors, staff will eventually follow. If leaders and managers don't model the desired behaviors, neither will staff.
  • Advance the employee experience. For each managed employee, managers must ensure assimilation, inclusion and engagement. In tandem, they must also identify and apply employee insights for relevant and personalized employee management. Depending upon the situation, managers may need to take the lead on redefining how work gets done in their areas.
  • Adopt high-performance culture vanguards. Successful company cultures share methods and techniques that inspire, motivate and capitalize on employee discretionary efforts and contributions. Replicating these methods, in the areas of communication, collaboration, team building, goal setting, performance measurement and technology adoption, is the shortest route to a high-performance culture.

Step 4 is to create the customer experience

The Customer Experience (CX) is the customer's perception of the business, based on the totality of their interactions. Including the CX in the culture design is what advances a corporate culture to a high-performance growth culture. Companies cannot grow without growing customers.

Customer facing staff are the primary liaisons to customers, and their behaviors and motivation will directly impact customer experience, and the company's business performance.

Employees decide whether to deliver customer responses that are good enough or great. IBM research included in The Employee Experience Index report found that 95% of employees reporting a positive employee experience with their company said that they engage in activities which are not part of their job but beneficial to customers and their company. That figure fell to 55% for staff reporting a poor experience with their employer.


Step 5 is process alignment

This step aligns the culture ideology with business processes and fixes or discards business processes that are misaligned. Supporting processes transcend ideology and transform values from words to actions. You can't achieve transformation without incurring change.

However, for many companies, embracing change is not the norm and is a difficult journey. As you might suspect, the effort to remove misaligned processes generally takes longer and is more difficult as it requires a willingness to let go of sacred cows, old habits, the status quo and fear of change. People must stop defending the past and build for the future.


Step 6 is to apply technology automation

Software is needed for task automation, process consistency, information reporting and scale. Technology aids engagement, collaboration, productivity, learning and knowledge sharing, and alignment with company ideology and directives. Technology is also needed to connect staff, especially as they become more remote, decentralized and work from home.

Common tools to promote culture include enterprise feedback systems, enterprise social networks, performance management dashboards and knowledgebases. Employees expect the same consumer-like user experience they realize in their personal lives with their systems at work. Software tools should support mobile delivery, self-service and social interactions.

The Culture By Design framework applies a proven and structured road map to what is an otherwise mysterious and unstructured challenge. This is the difference between achieving an intentional culture, pursuant to a planned design with forecasted outcomes, and a happenstance culture, which is the consequence of unplanned actions, unforeseen behaviors and random outcomes.