What goes on

There’s always a culture. You end up with one whatever you do, so you can either choose to shape and influence it or take your chances.

High performing teams and people thrive in high performance conditions and leaders play a massive part in creating and sustaining those conditions. Too many leaders don’t understand what that takes, or are too busy, or say that the time isn’t right. Then they become unhappy about the culture they’ve got and the performance they’re getting. Or they only put the effort in for a while, the culture weakens and people think high performance is a fad. The best people leave, the worst behaviours thrive and results suffer.

Leading a high performance culture makes a massive difference to performance and results. It takes discipline, time and effort because these cultures are not normal and without that leadership focus, they will whither and die. So like behaviours, leaders end up with the culture they deserve.

Five performance truths

The brutal reality of high performance life – this is what you need to know

  1. Leaders have a massive impact on culture. The behaviours they demonstrate, encourage and tolerate pretty much are the culture . See Rule 9.
  2. Excellence here has a structure. You need to make sure the key elements of a high performance culture are in place or you’re getting them in place. See Kitbag ‘Building a discipline of excellence‘.
  3. You need to line things up. Vision, purpose, goals, behaviours, rewards, signals and messages are all tools that leaders who build high performance cultures use wisely and in combination. After all, you’re out to build a culture that outlasts you, not a cult that’s dependent on you.
  4. You need to show that culture matters to you. Rewarding two results equally even though one reflects and supports the culture you want to sustain and the other doesn’t, is only going to get you what you don’t want.
  5. The world is out to drag your high performance culture down. It’s wired to want normal or average. High performance is neither of these things, so you need to be wary of the dangers every day.

Three things to do

  1. Make sure you’ve built – or are building – the key components of a high performance culture. If you’re not sure what these are, see Kitbag “Building a discipline of excellence.”
  2. Show it matters. Show it by treating it like other stuff that matters. Talk about it, get excited about it, measure it, set goals around it, put it on the agenda, report on it….
  3. Know that your job here is never done. You’re the constant gardener here. Have a plan to create the conditions. Have a plan to plant the right stuff in the right place. Then have a plan to make sure it’s nurtured, protected and has the freedom to grow.

A tool to get going

Dan’s story

Dan knew that culture mattered. He’d worked in enough places with different sorts of cultures to be sure of that. He also knew that as one of the key leaders in his organisation, he had a big responsibility to build that culture and then make sure it lived and breathed. But he wasn’t sure what he actually needed to do or exactly where to start.

So first he led getting all the key components in place by looking at everything that’s in the “Building a Culture of Excellence” Kitbag. Then he started to focus on making sure that element was kept alive and relevant by treating them like they were vital for long term success. He thought of them, talked about them and acted on them with the same importance he’d always attached to things like sales, profit and cash.

Dan also wanted the culture to get deep into the DNA of the place so it would last long after his tenure was over. So he made sure processes and rituals reflected that vision and he constantly invited other people to collaborate and contribute to the culture. It’s a constant job but Dan knows he has a choice. He can constantly be creating a garden that looks and feels great and can withstand the elements or he can constantly be looking out on a patch of scruffy turf and rampant weeds. And Dan isn’t keen on rampant weeds.