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Six Core Elements to Leading a Peak Performance Cultureby zengerfolkman October 19, 2011

--This is a guest post from Practical Leadership blogger, Jim Clemmer--

Organizational culture development is a complex topic with many intertwined leadership components. Establishing a peak performance culture in what's sometimes called a "green field" situation has different challenges than changing an established culture (sometimes called "brown field").

A participant in our culture change work recently observed and asked:

“Many companies are older organizations and are simply staid and entrenched. You are a great advocate of personal growth in our leaders. How do you bring this about in organizations? Personal development (or self awareness being the more accurate description) does not come from reading a few books or attending the odd seminar. Much like attending a psychologist or counseling, it requires a genuine desire for change/growth and sustained effort, sometimes over many years. Most contemporary leaders would simply be too busy or challenged by it to want to engage in this sort of thing. How do you think we can tackle this dilemma?”

He put his finger on a key challenge of revitalizing an established "brown field culture." It has to start with the understanding and motivation of the organization's key leaders for deep and sustained change. Often that means a transformation. Rarely will incremental change or implementing current practices more efficiently or faster be enough.

We've been working with more and more executive teams who proclaim strategies for transforming their culture toward higher safety, customer service, innovation, Lean/Six Sigma approaches, productivity, employee engagement, or new technology platforms. Often their intentions are strong but their understanding of just what it takes is weak. They're innocently ignorant.

In their Harvard Business Review article, “Cracking the Code of Change,” Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria write, “The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail.” This is consistent with what’s being reported in many studies of transformation and change efforts.

We’ve found these “fatal five failure factors” are tightly intertwined roots of the problem:

  • Partial and Piecemeal Plans and Programs
  • Poor Assessment of Systems/Processes and Perceptions/Attitudes
  • Leadership Lip Service: Behaviors Undefined and Underdeveloped
  • Not Building Cause and Capacity for Continuous Change
  • Weak Implementation Framework, Plan, and Infrastructure

Every organization has a culture. The critical question is whether it’s by design or by default. Leading or designing a peak performance culture calls for weaving together many elements. Central to successful culture development is balancing the discipline of systems, processes, and technology management on a base of effective people leadership.

The framework we’ve found most successful has six core elements:

Focus and Context (Vision, Values, and Purpose)

  • Bringing alive the vision, values, and purpose/mission at the centre of organization's culture to eliminate the “snicker factor” that comes rarely used statements hanging on walls and posted on web sites.

Customers/Partners

  • Focusing the entire organization on external customer needs and expectations.
  • Strengthening internal partnerships working back from external customer expectations (outside-in) across teams and departments.
  • Extending "the customer service/quality chain" out to external partners such as suppliers, distributors, and strategic alliances.

Strategy and Direction

  • Aligning strategy, structure, and roles up, down, and across the organization.
  • Establishing three – five annual strategic imperatives to focus daily operations and strategic change/improvement efforts.
  • Cascading a goal deployment system for disciplined follow through down all organizational levels.

Measures and Rewards

  • Balancing leading indicators like operational and customer service or quality with lagging indicators such as financial measures.
  • Establishing a feedback-rich culture for continuous learning and improvement.
  • Aligning reward and recognition programs and practices with desired behaviors.
  • Continuously changing and improving through reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing.

Processes and Systems

  • Streamlining processes at the local/tactical, cross-functional/departmental, and strategic/organizational levels.
  • Aligning key organizational support systems (HR, IT, financial, controls, planning, etc.) to reduce frustration and boost performance.

Learning and Development

  • Delivering effective education and communications strategies, systems, and practices.
  • Assessing and closing skill development gaps.
  • Building more strong departmental, project, and cross-functional teams.
  • Assessing and closing gaps in organizational learning, knowledge management, and innovation.
  • Building a strong planning process and infrastructure to support ongoing transformation and change processes.

This type of integrated framework keeps culture transformation efforts from falling victim to the Fatal Five Failure Factors. It provides a template for assessment, priority setting, planning, implementation, and course correction. This creates a leader led and designed culture for peak performance.

Culture change and organizational transformation is complex, takes time, and requires strong leadership. But the core elements of successful implementation are fairly simple and doable. If you have the leadership will; there is a way.

Jim Clemmer 

---Starting with partnership with Zenger Miller in 1981, Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and achieving results. He’s published seven international bestselling books in over a dozen languages. He has delivered thousands of keynote presentations, workshops, and executive team retreats to hundreds of organizations around the globe. He’s listed in the World’s Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus based on research with 22,000 global business people, consultants, academics and MBAs.

Click on Leading a Peak Performance Culture for information on his free 60 minute webcast on November 4 will expand on the failure factors and six core elements.


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