The 5 Hallmarks of a High Performance Culture

There are a lot of things the company can do to drive business growth. But the one thing that will directly impact everything else is corporate culture. A high-performance growth culture is an enabler of business agility and sustained company growth.


Company culture is your most valuable asset

Company culture is the single biggest untapped asset to boost staff productivity, employee tenure, company growth and profits.

It's disappointing to see business leaders put more time and planning into a single project than their company culture. The most common reason for this is they don't fully comprehend the impact and payback of a high-performance culture.

Fortunately, the research is available and unequivocal. Harvard professor Dr. James Heskett and Dr. John Kotter measured business cultures over an 11 year period and found that when compared to lower culture peers, higher performance culture companies achieved an average 516% higher revenues, 246% higher net income growth, 827% higher employment growth and 755% higher stock price growth.

Corporate Culture Financial Impact

As you might expect, these financial results take time and occur over an evolutionary process. A high-performance culture starts with design of ideology. Once the ideology advances from declarations to actions, is then embedded in the company’s operational constructs and is ultimately evidenced in the daily workings, the benefits and payback will occur.

Growth Culture Continuum

Culture is one of only 4 sustainable competitive advantages

Competitive advantages used to be things like products, price, staff, service, and location. But in the minds of customers these are all easily substitutable and highly commoditized. A high-performance culture is a competitive advantage that is not easily duplicated by competitors or quickly displaced by new technologies. For most companies, the other 3 sustainable competitive advantages are innovation, customer affinity and predictive analytics.


Culture trumps skills and knowledge (being smart is overrated)

There are numerous studies that show high performance cultures build teams that excel in collaboration and communication, and consistently outperform higher skilled and more experienced teams that do not possess comparable cultures. Ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things when inspired by a purpose bigger than their jobs and themselves.


Culture is not something you are, it's something you do

Effective business cultures are not words or proclamations, they are observable behaviors and actions. A high-performance corporate culture carefully defines, measures and reinforces shared company values that drive the behaviors which determine the quality and volume of employee (discretionary) effort and productivity. This is why high-performance cultures realize much higher rates of labor productivity.


There are 6 Levers in building a growth culture

Orchestrating these levers, pursuant to a corporate culture framework, will determine productivity, outcomes and growth. I use the below radar graph to periodically measure culture performance and identify areas in need of improvement.

Company Culture Radar

In the above graph, the culture pillars are your ideology declarations, and normally include your corporate identity, purpose, vision, values and behaviors.

The employee experience is created by aligning staff objectives and behaviors with the company's ideology and top priorities. For most companies, this will mean satisfying the three employee assimilation needs of Know Me, Value Me and Empower Me, and affirming their inclusion needs of I Believe, I Belong and I Matter. A good starting point is to capture employee insights that reveal how to acquire, retain, involve, motivate and engage staff.

The manager experience is created when managers have the skills, methods and tools to communicate, model and reinforce the culture ideology and contribute to the employee experience. For many companies this will include more active leadership methods (I recommend servant leadership for most organizations) and giving managers the training to know how and when to provide coaching, facilitation and mentoring.

Customer experience is the lever that advances a culture to a growth culture. Most executives recognize that customer centricity is the most direct path to sustained company growth. However, they often fail to recognize that the employee experience is predecessor to the customer experience. Simply put, happy employees make happy customers.

Culture ideology must be embedded in the operational fabric. Most companies will need to pursue a two-fold path of modifying their business processes to create alignment and remove misalignment. Alignment is created when staff goals, values, behaviors and performance measures are aligned with the company culture ideology and business strategy.

Removing misalignment is simply discarding or altering business processes and incentives that are not aligned with culture and strategy. 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.

Software technology is needed for task automation, process consistency, information reporting and scale. I recommend starting with information reporting as it provides the baseline and scorecard to measure and improve. Below is culture dashboard that I created and routinely use to bring clear visibility and measurement to an otherwise imprecise objective.

Corporate Culture Dashboard

As the radar chart illustrates, your culture is in flux based of the effectiveness of each of these levers. Progress will fluctuate a lot in the beginning, while culture is in development, but if measured, managed and reinforced, these levers will stabilize as the company evolves from design to refine.