5 Ways to Create a High-Performance Culture

Most leaders face a delicate balancing act in creating a high-performance culture:  How do you hold your team accountable to high standards, help them make the right decisions, and coach toward results without making them feel like you’re looking over their shoulder? How do you create trust and accountability at the same time?

One of the most challenging aspects of a leader’s job is performance management. And it shows. Research on engagement shows that only a sliver of the U.S. workforce is fully engaged. Most of the workforce is under-engaged or disengaged. Most organizations are leaving a ton of potential on the table. That’s a problem that managers can solve by setting clear expectations, removing barriers and developing people to unleash their full potential.

Here are a few thoughts on how to create a high-performance culture.

Set Clear Expectations

In a healthy, high-performing cuture, employees never feel like they’re being micromanaged. They’re being developed and put in a position to contribute their full potential. Employees have a crystal-clear understanding of their goals and their manager’s expectations. They expect frequent, scheduled conversations about performance and accountability. Top performers typically welcome performance feedback, coaching and development. If employees know what to expect, check-ins about their performance aren’t stressful or surprising — they’re just a tool to help everyone get better and take progress toward meaningful results.  Having opportunities for growth and development is a leading driver of employee engagement, especially among Gen Y employees.

Go First

This is the advice I give most often to leaders: Go first. Before you set expectations for others, tell them what they can expect from you. Define what you’re going to contribute, how you’re going to help your team and how your own performance will be measured. Then deliver on those promises consistently. Set the pace.

When people understand what they can expect from you, they’ll be more motivated to return the favor and help the team win.

Consistency and clear communication create trust. Trust is so critical to a healthy culture, and most organizations today are facing a trust deficit. In the absence of trust, organizations will never perform at their full potential.

Schedule More Frequent Check-Ins

Planning a once-a-year performance review is overwhelming and, let’s be honest, not very effective. Instead, stay in touch with your people. Have short meetings more often. Keep the lines of communication open. Make meetings a useful two-way conversation. Get candid, one-on-one feedback. Provide corrective action. Help your people realize their full potential. Find ways to eliminate the obstacles that are holding them back. Create an environment that welcomes healthy, candid, “courageous” conversations.

If you’re looking for inspiration, read how Adobe blew up the traditional performance review and rolled out a more frequent “check-in” process.

Commit to Consistency

When it comes to creating a high-performance culture, consistency is everything. I’ve found that the more employees are armed with information and clear expectations, the less a leader is tempted to micromanage. Set the standards and follow through. If your expectations change or the business shifts, communicate those changes to your team. It’s a leader’s job to create a high performance culture, remove barriers and help people contribute in a meaningful way. When improvement and feedback are embedded into the culture, micromanagement isn’t necessary.

When you set clear expectations and help your team achieve them, everyone wins.

I experienced these lessons working for my best boss. He was the kind of extraordinary leader that showed up ready to make an impact every day.  

Who did you impact today?  How will you be remembered by the people you worked with today?

Those are self-assessment questions worth considering. Leaders go first!  

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