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Management 201: How To Build A Performance-Based Culture

We face all sorts of challenges as managers.

Not only do we have our own benchmarks to hit, but we depend on the individuals in our teams to rise to that same standard—and if they don’t perform well, it’s a direct reflection on us.

Whether you’re the leader of a small, scrappy team, or the CEO of an S&P 500 company, you understand the pressures of performance—and the desire to foster a performance-based culture.

There’s no one-trick fix to changing your organizational culture overnight, but we’re here to tell you it’s possible. With the right tools, the right strategy, and a desire to get it done, you can (and we would dare to even say should) absolutely turn your team into a high-performing powerhouse.

Here are some of the ways you can get started:

Caution: Danger Ahead

One huge distinction that we often highlight here on the Hoopla blog is that not all practices are good practices. Just because a management style or concept gets talked about a lot, that doesn’t mean that every version of it is healthy.

Take competition for example. Countless studies have shown us that competition between employees can drive better results from everyone—but that’s healthy competition. Unhealthy competition can take that to an extreme that actually undermines the culture in your office—where employees start to see each other as threats rather than collaborators. 

So with that in mind, please heed this warning: not all high-performance cultures are good ones. If you don’t also take steps to create healthy habits for your high performers, you may very well be doing more harm than good. 

Prioritizing People Over Numbers

Put a little more concretely, an unhealthy performance-driven culture,Harvard Business Review<’s Tony Schwartz points out, “often exacerbates people’s fears by creating up a zero-sum game in which people are either succeeding or failing and “winners” quickly get weeded out from “losers.” 

What Schwartz goes on to point out is that a healthy culture must promote growth hand-in-hand with performance: “in addition to rewarding success, [cultures that emphasize growth] also treat failures and shortcomings as critical opportunities for learning and improving, individually and collectively.”

If you lose sight of the individual, and are solely focused on the results produced, you’ll have lost at your own game. 

Culture Change Starts At The Top

When you’re talking about seriously overhauling your corporate culture, the answer is definitely not to just fire all of your “un-cultured” employees and start fresh. But admittedly, that can often seem like an easier, less daunting solution than creating change from the inside out. 

But if there’s any encouragement to found, it can be from an organization like the San Diego Zoo. After years of working under an archaic system, Tim Mulligan had to completely overhaul  the entire company’s HR system—everything from accountability to organizational goals. 

Tim was able to successfully pull it off, as Inc.’s Jacob Morganshares with us, and the lessons are easy to translate across any business: 

“The first step is to have senior buy-in and to get the CEO and other executives on board. Some leaders may be more enthusiastic, but others may need a business case backed up with numbers that a change is necessary. … 

But at the end of the day, it’s not just about having champions within the organization that will lead to long-term, structural change, Morgan points out. What matters most is finding something that works, and that only happens through open communication

“Employees around the organization should regularly give their feedback and opinions through methods like surveys and polls.”

Set Expectations, Hold To Them

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’ve undoubtedly run into conflict. And nine times out of ten, when you trace that conflict to its roots, it probably started with a hiccup in communication. 

From setting expectations to unspoken emotions, we can’t expect folks to read our minds. We have to communicate what we want—we have to set standards.  

In a study of over 30,000 employeesacross multiple industries, the employee engagement experts at Gallup found that the most crucial aspect to developing a high-performance culture came in the form of implementing an “effective performance management process.” 

What caught our attention were two of the building blocks they found that enabled successful companies to do so: “develop transparent reward systems,” and “articulate shared goals and objectives.” 

The thought of implementing a performance management process can make your average employee a little queasy: the implication might be, “hit these benchmarks or face the consequences.” But that’s only a mentality that comes when you’re developing an unhealthy performance culture. 

Instead, as Gallup highlights, performance management is a positive, rewards-based process, rather than a do-or-die one. 

First, you have a reward system set in place: if you can accomplish—or surpass—certain benchmarks, then you’re going to be rewarded. As we’ve talked about in the past, that can come in the form of financial rewards, or other incentivesthat don’t necessarily break the bank. 

Secondly, articulating shared goals and objectives brings a two-fold benefit for both the employer and the employee.

A Culture Of Shared Values

The primary benefit is that of transparency and clear communication. If you’ve laid out exactly what you expect from a high-performing employee, then it’s not so hard for an employee to attain that level of performance. It becomes a clear, actionable set of steps that empower your employees rather than scare them into better performance. 

Equally importantly, there’s that keyword “shared.” While every employee and member of your team is an individual, they are not an island. When you start to see higher numbers of disengaged employees in an office, you can be almost certain that one of the earliest causes had to do with their a) not understanding their role more broadly within the organization, and b) not feeling that their contributions to the company were meaningful—they what they were doing actually made a difference. 

When you’re clearly stating goals for your employees, and showing how those goals fold themselves into the broader goals of your team, you’re giving your employee the tools to be more engaged, and to have a much richer sense of how their performance affects everyone around them. It’s both profoundly inspiring and incredibly motivating for an all-around stronger performance.