The Right Performance Culture Starts at the Top

by Stacey Barr |

Measurement is the most practical way to create a performance culture that is capable of taking the journey to become a high-performance organisation. But it won’t work quickly enough, or nearly as well, if it doesn’t start with the senior leadership team.

Measuring what matters (and doing it properly and deliberately, and *not* the way we’ve always done it) shifts the way people think about:

  • performance
  • their contribution to the organisation
  • why they come to work each day.

In their article in HBR’s April 2016 issue, Culture Is Not the Culprit, Jay W. Lorsch and Emily McTague rightly point out that fixing the culture is rarely the right solution to organisational performance problems. Rather, they describe how great leaders don’t wait for a performance culture to enable measurement; they use measurement to enable a performance culture.

The act of measuring triggers changes in the performance culture of organisations.

I see it happen all the time:

  • Executive teams routinely say to me that the conversation to re-articulate their direction in measurable terms is one of the best conversations they’ve had — a conversation they should have had years ago.
  • Operational staff say they feel excited about their new measures, and that for the first time they can see a bigger reason for coming to work — bigger than their job and bigger than themselves.

Dean Spitzer talks about the performance culture like no-one else I know. His book, Transforming Performance Measurement, is a classic. My copy has highlighter on every other page, but one of the most powerful things he has to say is this:

“The key to success is MEASUREMENT. Measurement done right can transform your organization … measurement is fundamental to high performance, improvement, and, ultimately, success in business, or in any other area of human endeavor.”

The leadership team’s top two duties are culture and direction.

Stever Robbins, the Get-It-Done Guy from one of the Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts, says that the ultimate responsibility that rests solely on the CEO’s shoulders is the success or failure of the organisation. And the CEO’s top two duties, which only they can perform, are building culture and setting strategic direction.

And proper performance measurement brings culture and direction together, catalysing them both.

The senior leadership team only need to decide to take the first step on the path to evidence-based leadership and creating a performance culture. Then momentum and small wins can build on each other, like a reinforcing loop, and the subsequent steps, one at a time, will be so much easier to continue with.

The fastest way to commit to evidence-based leadership, and trigger a high-performance culture, is to start from the top: the senior leadership team.


What are your experiences with the success of measurement in your organisation, based on the support (or lack thereof) from your senior leadership team?

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