A high-performance culture strengthens your business

by Irwin van Stavel

Creating a high-performance culture can serve as an equaliser for the rich diversity in the South African workplace with employees generally perceiving high-performance team environments as less stressful and more productive. A high-performance culture allows employees to focus on what they can achieve together. It’s therefore in a company’s best interest to encourage leaders to foster a working environment that is conducive to a culture in which individuals can develop and perform at their best. Define your employees clearly and ideally, get your employees to have input into these goals to ensure greater buy-in.

Global corporates are generally only maximising 15 to 20% of their employees’ talents

A contributing factor is the bureaucratic way of creating job descriptions that tend to put employees’ capabilities and tasks in boxes. Riaan Steenberg of Regenesys Business School agrees, saying high-performing companies usually do not feature formal grading systems or narrowly-defined job descriptions. They are more likely to define jobs broadly:

  • In fact in the future, the best employees will demand innovative, imaginative contracts.
  • Employers who are unable or unwilling to supply such new paradigm agreements will come up short.

If the descriptor is too narrow it limits individuals to only ‘playing’ inside the specified box and not develop in any other unspecified areas.

Management must engage in conversations with employees about their talents

They must also discuss how best to use these to the company’s advantage through reaching shared goals.

Employees of the future definitely want tailor-made career paths and will thrive on collaboration, where work is interwoven, both internally and externally. Many companies will even accelerate leadership by grooming future leaders with team-based learning where trainees literally go on rounds in a group and then receive individual feedback after formal observation.
Leaders need to motivate individuals to stretch themselves further and create environments that are conducive to achieving this. They need to be able to adjust to the unprecedented challenge of having five generations of staffers working together. This starts with authentic leadership, where those in management accept they are not ‘the oracle’ of all information and tasks. Leaders aren’t the executors and gone are the days of micro-management.  We are moving into an era where knowledge workers dominate and lifelong learning is the rule.

Employees’ self-leadership is key to unlocking potential and creating a high-performance culture

Management needs to build employees’ competence, empower them to take ownership of what they’re doing and hold them accountable for what they produce. This will foster trust and allow for a greater spread of responsibility throughout the company.

Laying the foundation for a high-performance culture is best achieved during periods of optimism and calm, rather than when times are tough. In this way, employees’ capacity to perform, even under difficult circumstances, is strengthened. If you can sketch potential challenging scenarios before these happen and provide your staff with the opportunity to solve these issues, they will be far more resilient and effective when the tough situations really arise.

Put the following 3 measures in place to help you build a high-performance culture

1.    Red flag mechanisms: A structure that helps leaders avoid serious missteps by empowering people in their teams to raise issues, problems and challenges, immediately,

2.    Black Swan (or what-if) thinking: This builds robustness to be able to react in time to take advantage of opportunities or to meet threats caused by a surprising Black Swan (an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect), and

3.    Productive/prudent paranoia: Scratching deeper for possible challenges and difficulties.

These measures require a strong sense of trust in the leadership of the organisation. Employees need to trust that their leaders will act in their best interests.

Research suggests that performance is highly dependent on the approach and level of skill a manager has and shows that managers in high-performance environments engender high levels of trust, are flexible and accommodating.

Like all good things, the development of such a culture does not happen over night. The impact is not felt just by what is done today, but by what’s done over an extended period of time. There is no doubt however that the future workplace will be based on sharing and forming a community and on high levels of authenticity, innovation, personalisation and collaboration.

This article first appeared on HR Pulse.

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