Crafting a High Performance Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is like the air around us. When we enter the room, we can feel the air quality nevertheless that the air is invisible to us. It is the same way with an organizational culture – we can tell if it is positive or negative after hanging for a half day at the water cooler, even though we could not describe that culture in detail, and we may not know what creates it. We can experience positive cultures, such as high performance, diversity, or employee valuing, and negative organizational cultures, such as entitlement or pushing-for-profits-at-any-moral-price culture. Organizational culture is a set of values and norms that are shared or assumed, thus that’s why it is not visible, but is experienced and felt.

High performance organizational culture can be described as the collection of high performance values and norms that are shared and assumed by people and groups in an organization. These norms and values drive the way employees interact with each other and stakeholders, and the way they perform their work. The key factors to creating a high performance organizational culture are leadership practices, organizational processes, and employee behaviors. Leadership practices and organizational processes influence the latter – the positive employee behaviors, which in turn can support the leadership and the processes.

The art of crafting organizational culture rests on leadership, though ultimately all employees are active participants in the process. The leader’s role is to communicate clear expectations, promote employee involvement in decision making, and encourage and reward learning and skill development. Clear expectations come with clear role descriptions as well as ongoing communication. A leader has to be succinct about what he expects an employee to deliver. The detail of such communication may be different based on employee’s development level, however even the most proficient and independently-performing employees need to know what’s expected of their performance.

Leaders who encourage and reward employee learning, receive, in return, many positive outcomes. Employees strengthen not only their skills, but also increase their confidence, and usually develop more loyalty to an organization. Rewarding new skill development creates greater human capital and energizes the workforce. Finally, it is important that leaders “walk the talk” – meaning that all these leadership practices not only are communicated, but are personally embraced and lived out.
Organizational processes that support high performance culture are performance benchmarks (both individual and organizational), employee evaluation systems, peer accountability, continuous coaching, recognition systems, and on-boarding practices. All of these organizational processes require planning, commitment, and much attention to the “human element”. For instance, let’s take peer accountability. Peer accountability is a parallel process; middle management will keep front line employees accountable to the degree that higher management keeps middle management accountable. As a strategy for peer accountability, organizations can establish “a buddy system” so that employees can rely on each other. Managers can also raise the awareness on how one person’s performance may determine team’s and even the entire organization’s performance. Finally, leaders can coach employees on how to keep each other accountable as well as how to positively reinforce and praise each other for the work well done.

Creating organizational culture is not an overnight process; organizational culture improves incrementally over the time. At times we have to take a step back so that we can take the next two steps forward. Crafting a high performance culture is a never-ending process, and not a single task. It can be compared to a relationship building – we have to invest our energy and time to keep our relationships live and meaningful.