Building a High Performance Company

Your business and most businesses face challenges with growth, market share retention and increased competition; never has the phrase – It takes extraordinary effort to get ordinary results been more applicable.

Companies that consistently out perform their competition and achieve top quartile results do share some common traits. Companies are not faceless, they have a personality (the culture), they have human attributes (Values) and they have ambition (Vision), many also have a conscience (Purpose). All of these traits are subjects of numerous books, but the reality is these attributes are developed and supported over time by leadership and by the sum of the people that populate a company. The closer everyone in an organization is aligned to the guiding attributes then the greater the likelihood that a company will enjoy enduring success.

In the book “Good to Great” on page 13 Jim Collins wrote:

“First Who….Then What”. We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it. The old adage “people are your most important asset” turns out to be wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”Businessman and woman discussing on stockmarket document in office

Time and time again over the course of analyzing companies we have found people in organizations that do not belong on the bus – some even openly disagreeing with the vision of a company and undermining the success of the company. Yet, there was a real reluctance on the part of senior management to deal with these individuals, either out of perceived loyalty because of longer tenure or a penny-wise pound-foolish cost of severance mentality. They would rather burden the organization with poor performers and malicious individuals that undermine the objectives of the company than pay what would be a relatively minor one-time cost to rid the organization of these weeds.

Bottom line. What separates good managers from great ones is how effectively they do the difficult things – things most of us avoid, the things nobody likes doing. That includes setting clear and achievable goals, aligned with the company goals, then giving employees and managers regular, honest and direct feedback and a kick in the pants when needed. It also means there are times to cut people loose, it is easier if they do something that is non-negotiable; steal, are insubordinate etc. Those actions are subject to immediate dismissal.  However, it is dealing with; the chronic poor performer – the one that does not respond to coaching and training, the person that does not fit the culture of the organization and could be undermining the efforts of others, the negative individuals that always see the downside of everything and bring morale down. These are the individuals the need to be pruned out and a great manager deals with them– with dignity and compassion – but deals with them!

There are numerous instances where we have found companies that change the seats people occupy to try and find a place where they may be successful. This done partly out of a sense of responsibility to these individuals, as they may be longer term employees or they made a contribution in the past; however, most of the time senior management shuffle the deck to avoid making the harder decision of actually letting poor performers go. In a few instances the re-located individual can find their niche, yet, more often than not they don’t and continue to be a burden on the organization. We have found time and time again people know who is performing and who is not – morale actually improves when management deals with the poor performers.

However, the single biggest problem most business owners have is articulating what the right people look like.

They usually start with a perceived need, I am getting overwhelmed, can’t do it all – I need help. This is the time to define what skill set is required and to paraphrase Jack Welch – what do A players look like. In sports there is an adage that the team that gets the best player is the winner in the trade. In business the company populated with the most A players out-performs the competition.

Defining the skill set and what top performance looks like is half the battle; now we need to define the fit to the culture of the company to ensure people are successful – what my true personality is, what type of person would I work best with?

What are my core values, my guiding principles? What are the personality traits that most closely align with the company’s core values, mission statement and purpose?

Once those questions have been answered, with candor, the search can begin.

Finding the right people – A players that fit the culture is the prerequisite of building a differentiated, high performance team. Now the heavy lifting begins. As a fundamental, every member of an organization needs to know:

  1. What exactly is expected of them, in quantitative and qualitative terms, timelines, and these objectives need to be aligned with the company goals.
  2. They need the resources to achieve their goals. This includes the actual physical resources, financial resources, human resources, adequate training and the full support of senior management.
  3. What are the benefits to the individual for achieving success – financial and intangible?

Study after study has shown that once people feel they are compensated fairly money is not a prime motivator. Acknowledgement and recognition rank far higher the financial rewards. High performance companies champion their people, acknowledge their contributions and foster a climate of continuous improvement; for individuals, the support processes that keep the company moving forward, and the systems that drive the business.

So what differentiates high performance companies:

  1. The calibre of their people.
  2. Everyone shares and supports: the mission, vision, values and purpose of the company
  3. They all work towards common goals
  4. They have all the resources necessary to achieve objectives.
  5. Everyone is rewarded fairly and above industry standards.
  6. Achievements are acknowledged- people are championed.
  7. People feel they are needed and make a valuable contribution to the success of the company.
  8. The company and everyone in it are continuously improving, innovating and growing.


Adrian Herschell

Plutus Consulting Group

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