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Posted: September 26, 2013

Cultivating a culture of high performance

Maintain that competitive advantage

Ryan Padilla

Everyone has heard the saying, “Your business is only as good as your employees.” Yet how many of us truly understand the implications and make it a strategic priority to build, develop and empower our teams? Sure, it’s easier said than done. But creating a culture of high-performance will undoubtedly help you achieve key objectives and maximize your human capital. Here are some insights to ensure you maintain a competitive advantage with your most valuable resource – your hired talent.

Foster Collaboration

Many businesses operate in siloed work environments today. While large companies might intentionally employ this strategy for easy functional or business unit spin-off, the outcome of this isolation for small businesses is independent work product, which often lacks the capability to integrate cross-functionally. This autonomy can also create a critical gap with knowledge sharing, both within functions and across the organization.

The importance of collaboration and communication cannot be overstated. Get back to the fundamentals with your culture by simplifying and streamlining; for example, if your company contains multiple departments that function as mini companies, each with its own decentralized marketing, communications and HR efforts going on, find ways to consolidate these efforts or build a shared service to ensure collaboration.

As we’ve all witnessed, more hierarchy promotes more meetings which reduces productivity and results in slower decision-making. 
Key to this effort is identifying and assigning projects that require multiple resources. This provides an opportunity to learn from others’ skill sets, improves discovery of best practices and helps bridge knowledge gaps. The collaborative solution is always more impactful than the independent one.

It is equally important to set the communication standard. Whether it’s weekly, monthly or somewhere in-between, routinely rally your entire team to keep them informed. But don’t meet just to meet – be prepared and intentional with the time. Consider the anecdote from Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO, on the benefit of abolishing the meeting presentation by distributing hand-outs the day prior. “With the presentation eliminated, the meeting can now be exclusively focused on generating a valuable discourse: Providing shared context, diving deeper on particularly cogent data and insights, and perhaps most importantly, having a meaningful debate.”

Offsite gatherings are a perfect supplement to regular weekly meetings. In an environment where conference calls are the norm, getting together at the same time, in the same place to reconnect and discuss key business can prove highly effective. While everyone is assembled, consider planning at least one team-building exercise or break into smaller groups to collaborate on a pressing issue or strategic initiative.

This concept can be replicated within large organizations by having functional “town hall” style meetings led by the department leadership. Focus on highlighting accomplishments, articulating the vision for the remainder of the year, incorporating workshops and ending with an open forum opportunity for staff to engage with the leadership team.

Empower with Responsibility and Authority

Enabling improved productivity, job and skills knowledge, and access to information, are all critical components to developing a high-performance work culture. Why? The true leaders on the team will capitalize on the opportunity to further demonstrate their capabilities. As they do, empower them with what they deserve – progressive responsibility and decision-making authority. You’ll be amazed at what people accomplish when given the opportunity to “play up.”

The impact of this mentality on idea execution typically produces outcomes far superior to the more traditional approach of funneling everything through the senior leadership for approval. Breed trust and confidence in employees and team members. In return, teams will work together more effectively and hold peers accountable to deliver the intended results.   

Complement this system of empowerment by extending a hand to your staff. When was the last time you asked “What can I do for you?” or “What do you need from me to realize success?” Showing engagement in career development and willingness to help overcome challenges will pay big dividends – with loyalty, job satisfaction and work output.

Hire for Talent, Not Skills

The reward of instilling collaboration and empowerment is a work environment streamlined by self-sufficiency – meaning - your team is assuming some of your less strategic responsibilities, you have eliminated redundant time and effort to keep the team aligned, and people are finally playing in position. Now you can focus on the priorities and strategies that will elevate both you and your company to the next level.

But even the best laid plans inevitably get disrupted. People move. People pursue other career paths.  People don’t perform to expectations.

When faced with the chance to refine the make-up of your team, hire for talent and not for skill. Sure, job specialization requires working knowledge of the fundamentals by any candidate, but look for a pattern of ambition, problem solving and curiosity over technical expertise. You can teach a skill. You can’t teach pursuit of excellence.

Managing teams to produce the desired results – efficiently and consistently – is the hardest task of any business operation. Yet it can be one of the most fulfilling when done right.

Embrace the responsibility of cultivating a high-performance culture. It may be the most important thing you do.

Ryan Padilla is a manager with 12 years industry/consulting experience at RAS & Associates, a Denver-based strategy and management-consulting firm. He specializes in strategic planning, data analytics, and supply chain management, and he has been published in CFO Magazine and SpaceNews. Contact Ryan Padilla at ryan@rasandassociates.com

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Readers Respond

Great article. Your message resonates with me. The magic really happens when a foundation of people, collaboration, trust, empowerment and support are established. From this base, organizational alignment occurs and everyone benefits. Happy employees, happy customers and strong (if not improved) bottom line. By bizmaven on 2013 09 26
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