How to Build a High Performance Culture in the Work Place

How to Build a High Performance Culture in the Work Place


It’s Rugby World Cup time. And that means your Saturday should be spent watching grown men run into each other, wrestling for a ball that isn’t round. Part and parcel of this ritual is listening to other grown men comment about the games, and give predictions on which team will win the cup.

I listened to a panel discussion this weekend, and they came to New Zealand, the favourites, the telling comment was “we won’t know how good they are until the knockout games – they haven’t been tested yet”.

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Get your team battle-ready

Interestingly, when you look back at previous World Cups, the winners have always had a tough pool to get through. The logic is that your team needs to be tested before the crucial knock out games, to be battle hardened for the finals. If your build up is too easy, then your team hasn’t been prepared well enough.

The metaphor above can be applied to the corporate world. As entrepreneurs building up a business to take on scale, we want to have a culture that brings out the very best in those that we employ. So how do we create this high performance culture?

Throw challenges at your staff

The first step is to throw challenges at your team members. Ask them difficult questions, set stretching objectives, give them responsibility and paint the picture of how high you want them to climb. The bigger the better.

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I have worked at two companies that follow this mantra. The first gave big responsibility to their staff, and very stretching targets to reach, but it failed to produce a high performance culture. The reason was that instead of backing their staff up with necessary resources and support, senior management ruled by fear, blitzing mistakes and failures.

The culture that is created in this environment is one where the staff members seek to ensure that they can’t be blamed for the failure – a “cover your ass” culture. They work hard, and these long hours are seen to be productive, but the reality is that it’s another way of ensuring that failure can’t be put down to a lack of effort.

Give clear direction and constant feedback

The second company (my current employer, GetSmarter) asks seriously challenging questions, and sets massive targets (let’s grow at 80% this year), but it backs this up with a culture of support. Clear direction and constant feedback are encouraged, adequate resources are deployed to achieve the stated goals, and employees are recognised for what they achieve, rather than for what they don’t.

It is important to balance these two aspects – demand performance, but offer the necessary support. Not giving the support is akin to asking the Springboks to win the World Cup, but not giving them rugby boots or water at half time.

The result is a culture that Plays to Win, and this is what every entrepreneur or new business owner wants. The crucial thing is that it’s also what every employee wants.

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Answering challenging questions, and achieving big results is how each one of us grows and develops in our corporate careers. It’s the alignment of personal and organisational goals that produces real performance.

So if you want your team to win the World Cup, prepare them through playing challenging opposition, but give them a game plan, and the right kit to play in. And finally, let the players lift the Trophy when they win.

Ryan OMahoney
Ryan O’Mahoney is the Chief Marketing Officer at GetSmarter. He describes his working experience at GetSmarter as “having my engine revved properly, and liking the sound”.

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