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6 elements to create a high-performing culture

– by Carolyn Dewar and Reed Doucette

What often separates the highest-performing organizations from the rest is culture. We view culture as the cumulative effect of what people do and how they do it – and it determines an organization’s performance.

If culture is so vital, then how do you make an organization’s culture as high-performing as possible? No one-size-fits-all formula exists, but our research and experience point to six elements that help organizations do just that.

  1. Define behavior changes that unlock business performance: Communicate these behaviors clearly so everyone understands what they look like in practice. This delivers a shared vocabulary to mobilize for change and provides a way to monitor progress in shifting the culture. These behaviors should be tailored to your business needs and context since no two organizations are the same.
  2. Uncover root cause mindsets and reframe them: Mindsets people have about what they can and should do drive workplace behaviors. While those attitudes often originate away from work, the workplace has a profound effect on shaping the beliefs and values that underpin how people approach their work. Every cue from how performance reviews are conducted to how meetings are run sends a signal about the “right way” to think and behave. To shift to a new set of behaviors, organizations need to grasp the cues they send and the root cause mindsets they create. Then they can reframe and address those underlying mindsets to achieve new behaviors.
  3. Engineer major business initiatives to role model and reinforce the desired culture: People take their cues about organizational values from their leaders’ signals. For a culture shift to take hold, spotlight the behaviors and mindsets that deliver the most business value. This becomes self-reinforcing. If the desired behaviors and attitudes deliver value, they generate a magnetic pull within the organization, ensnaring leaders seeking to accelerate the momentum of what’s succeeding.
  4. Adjust work to create a coherent employee experience: Four levers shift mindsets and behaviors: articulating a compelling change story; leadership role modeling; skill building; and formal changes to processes, systems, and incentives. Executing a program where each lever works in harmony forms a coherent experience for employees that minimizes confusion and accelerates the transition to a new culture.
  5. Produce opportunities for individuals to overcome personal barriers to change: For organizations to change, people must change. But that isn’t easy, since everyone possesses a different level of willingness and ability to change. Design an approach that lets individuals dive deep to recognize what propels their behaviors so they can make conscious choices about how to change them.
  6. Lead the journey in rigorous and employee-centric ways: Too often, a call for culture change only moves from the top of an organization down through the ranks. Instead, take an “employee-back” view when designing change efforts.

We frequently see culture treated as a side project, without the rigor commensurate with a major business initiative. Our research shows that organizations with higher performing cultures create a 3x return to shareholders. That’s why we urge organizations to treat culture as a top priority. It is one of the most essential drivers of business performance.