Opinion: 3 tips for building a high-performance work culture

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Make employees part of your business success

Culture is simply “the way we do things around here”—it’s how employees practise values, rituals and patterns of behaviour, even when no one is looking. Research shows that companies with high-performing cultures create triple the returns than those without them.

Change must be modelled from the top, but that doesn’t mean you can mandate it. Workplace norms are influenced by organizational practices and leadership behaviours, and it’s critical that your culture and strategy be in sync. Here are three ways organizations can create a culture of high performance to run a successful business.

1. Give employees the why and empower them to determine the how
Paint a compelling vision of the future and the reason a change is necessary. Behavioural modification is difficult, so tell your team what’s in it for them. Be clear on your expectations, but break the changes into manageable chunks, to be accomplished a piece at a time. For example, develop new competencies, then incorporate them into performance management and compensation.

To reinforce the alignment, communicate relentlessly—take every opportunity to explain decisions and actions in the context of your strategy and values. The more employees know about your business and the challenges you are facing, the more they can contribute. A high-performance culture is built on a foundation of reciprocal trust and empowerment.

2. Treat your employees as co-creators of change and find the opinion leaders
Your employees make or break the client experience; involve them throughout so they are co-creators of the change rather than just recipients of it. Seek out opinion leaders at different levels of the organization who model your desired performance and can help drive the shift.

Shared values are a cornerstone for a high-performing organization because employees instinctively know the right thing to do. At our company, BlueShore Financial, we involved all staff to create the corporate values required to support our strategy. The payoff was huge—employees bought in, and we still live and rely on those principles almost 10 years later.

Because culture is connected to motivations and behaviours, every employee can have an impact, for better or worse. You can strengthen your culture with every new person you add. It pays to hire first for fit and second for skill. It’s also important that you assemble a team with a diversity of perspectives and experiences.

3. Recognize and celebrate success—big and small, and everything in between
Culture change is a journey—acknowledge your progress along the way to maintain momentum. Reward and recognition programs should align with your desired outcomes. One way to do this is by sharing stories of how employees have embodied the change, and the impact it’s had on clients and your business.

A high-performance culture is a powerful contributor to business success. Like any living thing, it must be carefully nurtured to ensure it continues to thrive.

Marni Johnson is senior vice-president, human resources and corporate affairs, at North Vancouver–headquartered BlueShore Financial. She has more than 30 years of experience in leadership roles in various industries.