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Added by Craig Steel
Why culture is critical

Building a high performance culture is a priority for the world’s best businesses.

Man writing on a whiteboard while team sitting at table watches

Building a high performance culture is rated a priority for an increasing number of the world’s best businesses.

Despite its importance however, the majority of organisations are grappling to understand what a high performance culture looks like and how to build it in their business.

The reason for this is because most assume a high performance culture is a ‘consequence’ of employing the right people and doing the right thing, rather than seeing it as a ‘mind-set’ the company sets out to create to enable its people to win.

If you are serious about performance, you need to paint a clear picture of the culture you are trying to build and why it matters rather than hoping it occurs as a result of your aspirations and efforts.

A common theme we see playing out is leaders feeling frustrated that despite their efforts to create a positive environment, it isn’t helping them advance as a business – even though it may be appreciated by their people.

Because an organisation’s culture is its only sustainable point of difference, it needs to be defined in order to ‘drive’ workplace performance not ‘be’ defined by the quality of its performance.

A mistake organisations often make in terms of culture is trying to benchmark themselves against other businesses to see how they stack up, rather than asking themselves how much of their people’s potential they are accessing on a daily basis.

The problem with benchmarking is it tends to focus the conversation about culture into one of ‘what can we do for our people’ rather than causing the business to try and figure out how it can ‘better enable its people to perform to their potential’.

Unless the culture of your business is perceived by your people as the ‘enabler’ of their success, it cannot be called a high performance culture. Furthermore, most businesses we’ve seen aren’t ‘enabled’ by their culture, they are in fact ‘impeded’ by it.

If you want your business to win and/or deliver better outcomes, you need to explain to your people what you need them to be to excel in their roles, rather than trying to give them what they want and hoping for the best.

In truth, high performance cultures are extremely rare and yet those who manage to create them, out-perform those who don’t. That said, high performance cultures are not designed to make people happy, they are designed to enable people to excel. In other words, people’s ‘happiness’ comes about not because of the business efforts to make them so, but because of the satisfaction they experience as a result of performing to their potential; hence winning sports teams are happy, whereas those who are focused on trying to make their athletes happy rarely ever win.



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