How HR Can Create and Sustain a Culture of Performance

We used to think that it was just millennials who made career decisions to join or leave an organization based on company culture. A newly released study from Glassdoor suggests that when it comes to attracting new applicants, a company’s culture may be equally important as the salary they offer, if not more. This makes having a strong culture essential for any business looking to attract the best talent. 

But what does “company culture” really mean? Too often, companies use this phrase to describe office perks, such as free lunches, a pool table or a dog-friendly workplace. While most people enjoy these benefits, in the big picture they are nice-to-haves that don’t actually impact whether people join a company or thrive there for a long time. 

In my experience the keys to a thriving company culture focus on performance, motivation and personal and professional development. A culture of performance is about keeping employees engaged with both the goals of the business and their own career aspirations. This helps people remain motivated because they always know what they’re trying to achieve and prevent them being overstretched or burnt out because they have clear priorities.

Creating a performance-based culture does not mean simply posting a mission statement and a few vague platitudes on the walls. It’s something that should be felt throughout your company on a daily basis, and reinforced and practiced by everyone from senior leadership to the interns. Here are four ways that your HR team can build and nurture a high-performing culture for your business.

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1. Give Everyone a Reason to be There

At the beginning of my career I heard a great story about the power of purpose. Restaurant managers want tables cleared and cleaned quickly so they can seat more customers and generate more revenue.  They typically just order the people bussing the tables to move faster. Without context, that causes the bussers to feel exploited and they don’t see any personal value in expending that extra effort. However, when managers explained the broader purpose of that increased effort and reminded their staff that more customers meant more tips for everyone, their motivation was greatly increased.  

In any industry or organization, making sure everyone can clearly see where they fit in and their purpose, is critical to success. For example, my company makes medical devices for people with chronic back and leg pain. As an HR leader, my purpose is to ensure that everyone at the business, from those involved in designing our products to the receptionists greeting visitors to our offices, understands our mission is to help people live fuller lives with less pain. And this increased level of motivation doesn’t just make people feel good; companies that clearly define and act on a sense of purpose have been shown to outperform the market by 42%.

2. Give Employees Clear Goals

When employees are able to link their day-to-day activities to an organization’s big-picture objectives, engagement increases by 3.5x. Yet far too many employees simply don’t know what is expected of them at work. HR’s role is to help connect the dots by helping every individual to align each of their goals with specific corporate aims.

Critically, HR and business leaders also need to ensure that their people are supported in meeting these goals. Rather than just reviewing whether targets were achieved or not at the end of a quarter or year, we encourage managers to have regular light-touch check-ins to track progress and help with any blockers.

Keeping employees motivated and engaged is not about creating a feelgood-factor. With unmotivated workforces costing the US economy as much as $550 billion in lost productivity each year, having clear and aligned goals can directly impact your company’s bottom line.

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3. Train Managers to be Better Coaches

70% of the variance in engagement among employees comes down to their managers. Yet organizations often fail to prepare managers for the critical task of motivating and developing employees. More than half of new managers felt unprepared for their first managerial position and just 39 percent received talent management training.

It’s essential that you train your managers to help employees develop their skills and educate them about the importance of providing effective feedback regularly. Performance reviews should cut both ways and you should routinely ask employees for feedback about their bosses so that your managers are always improving. The better they are at motivating, engaging and developing their teams, the greater the performance boost for your business.

4. Measure and Manage Performance Continuously

Employees with purpose and clear goals who are coached by well-trained managers are essential, but you also need a way for everyone to track and manage their progress. Where performance is measured, performance improves. To achieve the results your business needs, HR needs to know when performance gets better and understand what went wrong if it doesn’t.

A successful culture of performance needs to be supported by the right technology. I’ve seen otherwise well-designed processes fall apart because employees and managers got so fed up with the clunky and confusing performance management tool they were using.

We are using Betterworks to make our performance process as simple as possible for both managers and employees — this helps them see the value in the process. Betterworks also provides transparency into the progress of goals, helps HR ensure employees and managers are regularly having those important conversations and gives us insights into overall performance at the business.

A Long-term Initiative that Drives Long-term Results

Establishing a culture of performance won’t happen overnight. After all, you’re not just installing a foosball table or upgrading the quality of your snacks. Each of the four strategic initiatives above require careful planning, effective execution and continuous evaluation to be truly valuable.

When HR takes the time to ensure managers and employees have a sense of purpose, are aligned around goals and business priorities, have been trained to give and receive feedback effectively and are equipped with the tools they need to make their continuous conversations worthwhile, your business will have a true culture of performance that gives you a long-term competitive advantage.

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