Big Thoughts, Education

Five Ways To Create A High Performance Business Culture

At some point, a friend has probably told you that the company they work at has a great culture. It’s also likely you’ve also heard from someone who feels they’re working in a toxic culture. Employees are quick to observe how their organizations function.

Great cultures attract the best talent where the working environment is fun, people are caring for one another, and everyone has a chance to learn and grow. Conversely, employees describe poor organizational culture as a place where there is fear in speaking up, a lack of trust and collaboration, and there’s little connection between the work being done and the goals of the business.

It quickly becomes clear that building a high-performance culture has real, meaningful benefits.

Does Business Culture Matter?

Creating and maintaining a positive culture results in better bottom line results. Businesses experience both increased performance and growth, ultimately producing greater earnings. In addition, employees are more engaged and develop a higher quantity of innovation. The working environment is more collaborative, open to feedback, and communication is clear and direct. As you can imagine, weak cultures produce plenty of the opposite outcomes.

In some relatively rare cases, a high-performance culture can form organically, typically as a result of charismatic and enlightened leadership — often found at really successful startups. However, most organizations must work hard at creating and maintaining a positive culture. Even those successful startups, lucky enough to have great leaders, may be forced to be more proactive in culture development as the company grows or leaders leave.

Characteristics Of A High Performance Culture

So, what characteristics are found at businesses that are able to succeed at creating and maintaining great cultures? As you can imagine, there’s a pretty long list of contributing factors. I’ve distilled the most common characteristics down to five items that you can explore with your organization.

1. Purpose

The first is purpose. This may take the form of business vision and mission statements. Done well, these statements are clear on what the organization aspires to be and how nearer term objectives are the steps to get there, respectively.

But these have to be more than just words. Employees must be engaged in meaningful and inclusive ways to connect their work with the vision and mission. Knowing their responsibilities and how their decisions impact the bigger picture connects staff to purpose.

For example, consider the vision statement of Swedish furniture retailer IKEA: To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.

It’s simple, clear, and communicates purpose to both customers and IKEA staff.

Beyond the vision and mission, the values and the code of conduct of the organization must be communicated and understood. The results are more employee satisfaction which leads to increased productivity, innovation, and engagement.

2. Leadership

The second area is leadership. All types of leaders in an organization have a significant influence over culture. In some cases, the CEO alone can set the tone. Their behavior and communication style can make or break a culture. History is replete with CEOs who propelled their organizations to great heights and others who destroyed notable brands. Beyond the CEO though, all leaders and managers have responsibility for creating and sustaining positive culture. Every day, managers have the ability to recognize, include, promote, empathize, and encourage their staff members and teams. Their tone and acts — big and small — can make or break success.

3. Teamwork

The third area is teamwork. While the marketplace is certainly highly competitive, internal operations should be collaborative, well-structured, and aligned. Dysfunction can often be identified when internal teams don’t work well together, silos exist, and communication is weak. Great cultures support and reward teamwork. They work exhaustively to eliminate roadblocks and coalesce around shared responsibilities.

4. Communication

The fourth area is communication. A common complaint from employees is the absence of quality communication. This can include a lack or absence of messaging and when it does occur, it’s poorly delivered. In other words, communication may happen, but it’s not clear.

Great communication takes real effort and skill. Organizations must never approach this area lightly. It’s also not just about getting the right information to the right people at the right time, but also about leadership listening to communications from employees. If communication is successful as a fluid two-way street, this can promote a culture of sharing and knowledge, and can demonstrate that the business cares about its employees.

5. Learning

Finally, the fifth area is learning. There was a time when employees were trained once to do a job and then further training was rare. Today, employees expect an organizational environment where learning opportunities are continuous and abundant. This shift is powered by an interest in personal growth and success, but also a recognition that work and skill needs are evolving often. When a learning culture exists, staff remain longer, and they have a greater sense of belonging, ownership, and connection to the business. High-performance cultures have a tight correlation with a culture of learning.

That’s my shortlist. There’s more of course, but if your organization incorporates at least these five areas, you will be well on your way to creating a high-performance culture.

This post is adapted from Dr. Jonathan Reichental’s upcoming brand new online video course, Building a Data-Driven Culture, which comes out in fall 2023.

In the interim, you can enjoy Dr. Reichental’s popular online video courses and also check out his best-selling books here:

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