Building a High-Performance Culture

Since the economic recession in 2008, leaders have reverted to primal instincts – managing their employees and organizations out of fear. In doing so, companies have instituted heavy-handed management and left authentic, inspiring leadership on the backburner. Unfortunately, strict management practices are misdirected – managing their people rather than their culture.

Time and again, studies show an intentionally defined and strategically implemented corporate culture is directly correlated to increased financial success. Moreover, a clearly communicated and habitually practiced culture leads to higher employee loyalty and satisfaction.

What the heck is “culture”?

To many leaders, culture is convoluted, ambiguous and peripheral to long-term corporate success. However, this is far from the truth.

Culture is largely defined as the rituals, behaviors, and values present within an organization. Organizational culture is shaped by who is hired, how they are rewarded, the behaviors that are tolerated, and how and when leaders decide an employee is not a good cultural fit. These “people practices” and corporate culture are interrelated – they affect one another and the company’s success.

However, the problem does not lie in leaders’ inability to effectively define and guide organizational culture – but rather their inaction with regards to developing culture. Over the past decade, leaders have failed to define, manage, and align culture with desired business outcomes. And unfortunately, organizational culture will emerge whether or not it is intentionally defined and cultivated. So why leave it to chance?

Organizational culture = Long-term success

Though left in the rearview for the past decade, leaders are quickly realizing culture is foundational to sustainable success. According to the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, corporate executives rate improving culture, engagement, and employee retention as “urgent issues.”

Developing organizational culture is the first step in building an adaptable and resilient organization. Leadership that clearly defines and communicates company culture guides employees and articulates how daily responsibilities contribute to the overall mission and vision of the organization. Moreover, by establishing culture, leaders drive employee engagement – resulting in higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction.

With a culture intentionally cultivated and practiced at all levels of the organization comes increased levels of agility and flexibility – two characteristics essential to success in the digital era. Technical fields such as engineering are progressing quickly, requiring organizations and their employees develop the ability evolve and adapt to the changing economic landscape. 

Creating the cultural foundation

Common language and shared values are the foundation to effectively defining and communicating culture organization-wide. For the engineering industry, the Engineering Competency Model (ECM) provides the common language organizations can leverage to guide cultural development. Shared values, or the ideas individuals hold to be true, must be practiced by leadership, integrated into hiring practices, and instilled throughout the organization. Establishing shared values should be an open, collaborative process involving employees at all levels of the organization.

Inculcating common language and shared values throughout an organization instills qualities such as honesty, reliability, accountability, and psychological safety. Moreover, common language and shared values build the foundation upon which leadership and employees can pursue a common goal, with common values, and create high-performing, profitable organizations.

Common language and shared values are essential building blocks to a clearly defined and articulated organizational culture. Common language helps leaders communicate their culture, why it matters, and how it impacts organizational performance in ways their employees relate to and understand. Moreover, shared values ensure leaders hire and develop a workforce that will further their company’s goals and mission.

Building the high-performance culture

As a leader, ask yourself, “Am I actively defining and promoting a specific organizational culture, or am I letting one evolve organically?”

Leadership often gets bogged down working “IN” their business – focusing on quantitative metrics and Key Performance Indicators over the human qualities and culture of their organization. However, working “ON” the business requires talking about things bigger than just metrics and getting work done. Leaders should prioritize the values upon which the business operates and the language that is used to communicate these values organization-wide.

  • First, leaders must intentionally design their company’s culture based upon the mission, values, and vision of their organization. Developing culture should be a collaborative process involving stakeholders at all levels of the organization – not a “mission statement” developed in the corporate board room and relayed to lower-level employees.
  • Second, leaders must manage their company’s culture. This requires leaders espouse company values in and out of the workplace, instill them in their employees, and actively communicate and collaborate with their team.
  • And third, leaders must align business strategy with their corporate culture. Coordinating corporate culture and strategy connects every day actions to the overarching goals of the organization.

Leadership that is dedicated to the above strategies will develop a high-performance organization, realizing benefits such as improved employee retention and satisfaction, higher levels of productivity and efficiency, and most importantly, increased profitability.

The Engineering Leadership Institute’s (ELI) Performance Certification System (PCS) and Team Leader Guide leverage the ECM to establish the common language and shared values throughout your organization. The Team Leader Guide facilitates targeted daily team interaction centered on the PCS trainings, promoting team collaboration and communication, and building the foundation for organizational high-performance.