Simon Clark discusses how hiring the right people into an organisation is only the start. The most important job is building a culture within an organisation which serves as a framework for high performance and talent to thrive...
I am working with an organisation that is in the early stages of development, it has several members of its leadership hired and has set a clear objective – it will be the best, it will be world class. I am tasked with a variety of international searches to build the leadership team and to find the “best” people in their specialist fields. This organisation is very well funded, it has a clear picture of what it wants to create and the services it will offer once the infrastructure has been built and the team have been hired. There is also a “go live” deadline. What is most interesting about this is that, in order to have the best people, the organisation has also recognised that there should be a context for talent and high performance to thrive.
The context for talent and high performance to thrive
It’s relatively easy to hire the right people into an organisation, but the most important work the business does is the creation of a culture and that is down to the executive team – it’s this central team that creates the operating norms for a high performing team to be the best and sets the culture around it. The executive team, as a group, are the architects of the culture for the whole organisation so that when people join the organisation and are asked to perform at their best, the cultural energy, attitude and mindset is aligned to high performance and as such it is… The Norm.
Dr Paige Williams from the University of Melbourne has researched leadership and culture and suggests that leadership energy, attitude and mindset are the root cause of success: “I believe leadership is the critical leverage point in any organization – it focuses organizational attention on what is important and creates the processes, systems and practices that create cultural behaviours and norms. Once you have an executive team with positive energy, attitudes for high performance and a mindset of growth and contribution, you’re a long way to creating what I call an ‘antifragile’ culture – one that will thrive through challenge and change.”
High performing culture is not created overnight
This is not the sort of thing that you can create overnight. It needs careful thought and alignment to create an orbit of sustainable, high performance that is centred around the leadership focusing on:
Taking a Strengths based approach
Paige continues, ‘The thing about culture is that it will happen anyway – it can’t not – we are social creatures and we will create and establish social norms. The opportunity for leaders is to be intentional about the culture they want to develop in their teams and organization.”
So, what does it mean to ‘create culture’?
We often think of culture as a powerful ‘invisible force’ that determines ‘the way things are done around here’, but when we analyse it there are certain ‘structures’ to culture that leaders can use to create and evolve it.
Paige suggests a number of areas for leaders to consider: “Language is very powerful because it reflects the values of the organization; so too do the stories that are told – the legends of past wins and losses. Formal systems such as reward, development, hiring and review say a huge amount about culture – either explicitly, for example through what is rewarded, and equally powerful – implicit aspects such as what is ignored, or not given resources. Informal practices are also important – meeting etiquette and agendas, feedback mechanisms and processes, organization celebrations and events. Finally, the most tangible aspect – behaviours. This is where leaders must ‘walk the talk’ – and ensure that others do the same. It doesn’t matter what the Vision, Mission or Values statements say if they are not being lived and breathed every day by those at the top of the organisation structure.”
In my role, I meet lots of high-performing individuals, but I have seen many of them struggle to sustain their performance when they are in a context that doesn’t support and enable them to continue. The structure above would be a straightforward way to intentionally shift culture and to become architects and create a context for performance.