Creating High-Performance Cultures

Many leaders want to make a difference. And most of us can make more of a difference than we do.

I want you to know something important.

Whether you are a CEO, a leader of a business division, an entrepreneur or a team leader, you can create a high-performance culture. One that inspires and empowers those around you, and those who you serve.

What stops us being the inspiring leader we deserve to be? One of the big barriers is what we believe. Our beliefs can propel us forward or become millstones around our necks, dragging us and others down.

Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about changing the culture in a business group.

A new leader had been appointed, temporarily. Let’s call him Paul.

Now Paul had some interesting perspectives and patterns, which impacted on those around him.

He believed that even though he was temporarily in the role he had the ability to behave with the full power and authority of the role.

Many leaders who are acting in a role are tentative. He was different. He behaved like a sailor that was taking the helm in an ocean yacht race. He had the tiller to steer the yacht for some of the time, but for that time, he was fully in charge.

He was quick at sizing up situations and good at listening to people and building them up.

He looked at the desks. They were full of files, little mounds in front of each person.

One by one he met with each of his direct reports, learning about their roles, their outcomes and their frustrations.

When he heard a frustration, he would pause and ask a straightforward question. “What do you think we should do?”

Once he heard the answer, he would go inside and check whether he thought it would work. Almost always, the answer was yes. He would say to the leader he was meeting with, “Yes, you have my approval to do that.”

The shocked facial expressions showed how different he was compared with previous leaders they had experienced.

As he met with different staff he learnt about their strengths and opportunities for stretch. He looked at his meetings and identified different individuals who could take those roles and develop their skills and corporate perspectives.

He prided himself on making any leadership decision within 24 hours, regardless of the complexity of the decision. In his view, the speed of decision-making by leaders is important because it creates a culture which is either agile or frustratingly slow.

This is what he said:

“Lets say I’ve got four options to consider. They have equal benefits and impacts. There’s no further information on the best choice to make. Then our job as leaders is to actually make a decision, or facilitate a group discussion to tease out the best option. And then move on to help the group implement, and keep moving forward.

Delaying doesn’t make a difficult decision any easier. But delays are the death knell of energy and initiative, and they are rife in organisations.”

These are the top-notes from this story.

  1. It’s possible to consciously create a high-performance culture

You can’t do anything without believing first that it’s possible. And you can’t create a culture by yourself – it doesn’t matter how senior you are.

Cultures are created every day, by the myriad decisions made by leaders and staff at multiple levels.

The only question becomes, are you going to consciously create your organisation or team culture, or are you going to allow the many small decisions and omissions made by people at multiple levels to create your culture for you?

  1. You can change a culture where it is different from your preferred culture

For example, if staff tell you that decision-making is frustratingly slow and is holding the organisation or your group back, then challenge and change this cultural pattern – turn slow decisions into fast ones.

  1. You can change board, corporate or team culture quickly

People think change takes longer than it does. But people can change in a heartbeat.

Think about it in real life. Perhaps you’ve had the unedifying experience of yelling at your partner. Imagine that the phone rings, and you answer it. Imagine someone yelling, and then picking up the phone and in a completely normal tone saying: ‘Hello’?

Now this is a small example of change, but we are capable of much greater changes, just as quickly, if we choose to do so. As leaders, we first need to know, and to believe, that great cultural change can be achieved quickly.

The impact is immense – we raise our expectations of ourselves and others, and create the culture we want.