Establish a performance culture as your “secret sauce”

Leaders across industries are adopting new ways of working, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of volatility, organizations that focus on culture and organizational health accelerate out of crisis faster. By building a performance culture—one with a unique set of practices, rituals, symbols, and experiences to fuel sustained superior performance—leaders can future-proof their organizations.

Reinventing an organization requires a solid, shared foundation of meaning and clarity on the why (purpose), what (value agenda), and how (culture) of value creation. A distinct culture defines the behavior norms that propel it. Companies with strong culture achieve three times higher total return to shareholders than others.

In our experience – when translating this vision into tangible action and results – dividing the journey into manageable stages improves the likelihood of success. This proven framework is embedded in five actions to enable a successful performance culture transformation:

  1. Aspire: set a compelling long-term vision. Adopt a data-driven approach to analyze strengths and gaps at the behavioral level, using this fact base to develop a clear culture aspiration that encompasses your behavioral “secret sauce.” Determine midterm aspirations along the path to achieve that vision.
  2. Assess: determine readiness to achieve the aspiration by identifying specific behavior and mindset shifts. It is critical the aspiration is defined by specific, observable behaviors/actions that employees can take rather than broad themes such as innovation and collaboration. Identify your behavioral “secret sauce”—behaviors that are helping move the needle toward your vision—and which behaviors may be holding you back.
  3. Architect: establish the key behavior shifts necessary and systematically hardwire them in the organization. This step is foundational to activate the aspiration. Our research shows that to make behavior changes stick, companies need to use an influence model with four levers: role modeling by leaders, fostering understanding and conviction by delivering a compelling change story, building the confidence and skills required to change, and putting in place formal and informal reinforcing mechanisms.

    The most successful cultural transformation efforts start at the enterprise level, reengineering core business processes to embed the new cultural aspiration and behaviors. For instance, revamping the sales planning process, quarterly review management, or new employee onboarding—all of these are recurring, critical business processes that take up a significant portion of employees’ time and represent moments that matter.

  4. Act: manage the journey by promoting behavior and mindset shifts at the individual level. Culture-change efforts of the past have typically treated employees as a monolith: all employees receive the same messages and interventions. Now, more-sophisticated players are tailoring culture interventions to employee cohorts—yet even those strategies still treat broad swathes of employees the same. To effectively shift employees’ behaviors, interventions should be tailored to each individual based on their role, goals, and specific roadblocks. Cutting-edge technology and analytics platforms help organizations understand individual employees’ attributes and preferences, personalize content and coaching, rigorously track progress, and get smarter over time as more data is collected.
  5. Advance: embed continuous improvement with an agile, data-driven approach. Traditional culture transformations progress in long phases—first aligning on the aspiration, then designing a plan to achieve it, then tracking progress—which can take years. Leading organizations, on the other hand, use available data to pinpoint high-impact opportunities and agile principles to rapidly iterate and institutionalize advancement.

    One multinational e-commerce company uses its own data to identify and analyze their most-effective teams’ principles, which are then replicated widely. Rather than rely on a central “culture team,” the company drove change outward.

Leaders are wondering how to transform culture when employees are no longer face-to-face every day, but the truth is that a performance culture can be built anywhere, and these actions can apply in any type of working environment. Leading companies are already accelerating culture efforts—don’t get left behind.


This blog post is part of a series on Future of work, which explores a set of new principles such as anti-fragility and experimentation that are becoming increasingly critical for today’s organizations as they build more creative, adaptable, and human systems.

Learn more about our People & Organizational Performance Practice