How Strong is Your Performance Culture?

Almost every organization talks, analyzes, and obsesses about performance.  We live in an age where we perceive that everything can be improved, enhanced, or amplified in one manner or another.  How many times have you bought the latest computer, flat screen TV, MP3 player, or other device and within what seems like days a newer and better model is released for the same or even lower price?  Most of us feel great about our purchase for that brief moment until we see the new device.  Once the new device is available, we start to question our choice, timing, and satisfaction with our purchase.  The heart of these emotions is the act of comparing.  In many ways, we react the same way about work performance.  Once we reach a new height, we almost always start looking at the next peak.  We start comparing where we are to where we could be next.  This desire to reach new heights driven by near constant comparison is part of what makes human beings so resilient, adaptable, and sustaining as a species.  Moreover, it challenges us to constantly find new and better ways to improve.

Although human performance has been studied for centuries much still remains a mystery. Although the details remain a mystery, the results are not.  According to, financially stronger companies (those with an ROI of 30 percent or higher) possess better defined performance cultures. Conversely, financially weaker companies (ROI of 9 percent or lower) under perform on culture (

Figure 1: Performance Culture Factors

What are the big predictors of a strong performance culture? Figure 1 captures the elements most often identified.  Five hundred organizations were polled in 2011 by HCS to isolate the factors most important to their performance culture.  Strong leadership, employee engagement, and vision were the most important prerequisites for a high performing culture.  Recognition, learning, and goal focus or orientation made up a second tier with 75 percent of respondents agreeing with its importance.  More operational practices encompass the remaining factors.  Not surprising, these results tell us that performance starts at the top and closely aligns with the actions of those driving the organization.

Here is a simple quiz to determine the strength of your performance culture.  Please award one point for each characteristic possessed by your organization:

  1. My organization links organizational goals and objectives to group and individual duties and performance outcomes.
  2. My organization possesses an employee accepted system of assessing performance.
  3. My organization provides tangible and legitimate rewards to high performing employees.
  4. My organization recognizes employees that consistently meet expectations.
  5. My organization allows for two way feedback during the performance assessment process.
  6. My organization trains managers on performance measurement, coaching, and leadership.
  7. My organization empowers managers to create high performing teams.
  8. My organization develops employees to meet the organizational and individual goals.
  9. My organization clearly and consistent communicates the business rationale for major decisions.
  10. MY organization values the exchange of ideas, innovation, and creativity.
  11. My organization invests in developing management as well as leadership skills among our leaders.
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