10 Tactics For Building a High-Performance Culture

It was nearly eighteen months ago when I arrived in the president’s office where she confided in me that she had a strained relationship with her business partner and that her company was experiencing high turnover. She described her partner as being “brilliant” in terms of industry knowledge and bringing aboard new business. However, he was also described as a bully with respect to his style of management and leadership. He was a micro-manager to many, had a near zero-tolerance policy for human error, and felt that an occasional dose of intimidation coupled with a dash of fear was the best way to keep everyone on their toes. She was fearful that some of her company’s key players and top-producers were about to jump ship if things didn’t change.


After completing an employee insight assessment and conducting numerous interviews with staff, her fears were confirmed. When the partners were presented with the evidence, they agreed to restructure their relationship so that she would be solely in charge of managing, leading and nurturing all employees. I also provided them with a framework and strategy for building what I defined as a fanatical culture of high-performance, accountability and continuous improvement. Some of the recommended tactics that were implemented included:

  1. Replacing the dreaded annual review with ongoing feedback. I used the example that if a plane was departing from Boston and destined for Los Angeles, the pilot wouldn’t wait until the plane was flying over Canada before he acknowledged the need to get back on course. Similarly, employees, especially newer hires, need frequent feedback to know they are performing to expectations.
  2. Keeping employees in the know through newsletters, summits, an intranet and town hall meetings. One of the biggest gripes employees have is not knowing what is going on at the company for which they work. They need (and want) to know how the company is performing in terms of growth, meeting corporate objectives and achieving goals, and they also need to know how they fit into the big picture. Most importantly, employees want to know how their contribution makes a positive difference in the lives of its company’s customers – a fundamental component to raising morale.
  3. Investments in training. A few thousand dollars and a couple days out of the office for sales, service, leadership, technical, industry and human resources training would surely generate a handsome ROI. Employees warm up more to employers who care enough to invest in them.
  4. Investments in better tools to improve efficiency. If you’re still using dial up and floppy disks, take note. We all get it – hardware and software is expensive – sometimes very expensive. But, if such investments increase productivity and turn times while decreasing energy costs and down time, they pay for themselves quickly.
  5. Celebrating failure. Google lives by this. And if you’re wondering if it’s a good idea, try your best to remember what happened to all those other search engines (Yahoo, Opera, Alta Vista, Ask, Lycos, Infoseek, Ask Jeeves, etc.). Providing employees with opportunities to try new things, challenge the status quo and fail their way to success is the only way for them to truly grow.
  6. Hold appreciation days. Every six or twelve months, salespeople should spend a day in the life of production, and production should spend a day and the life of sales. This is the only way each group will understand and have an appreciation for each other’s challenges, struggles and triumphs. Meetings should be held with each group afterward to discuss what everyone learned. The dialogue will surely produce ideas for improving sales, efficiencies, morale, cooperation, productivity, and doing a better job of meeting customer expectations.
  7. Cleaning house. Going through the office to declutter is both healthy and invigorating. Unfortunately, this may also include replacing employees who no longer provide real value to the company. Top-producers expect management to release dead weight.
  8. Subscribing to a process for solving problems efficiently and effectively. One of my favorites comes from Jake Knapp, the author of “SPRINT” – a book that provides a process for solving big problems and testing new ideas in as little as five days. Strong cultures tackle problems head on. Weak cultures are stuck in a perpetual state of analysis paralysis. Progress is always better than perfection.
  9. Face defeats head on. When a company suffers a major setback or loss, its leader should hit the company RESET button. Everyone should be brought together to perform an autopsy of the situation, define what went wrong and clear a new pathway for a better day, month and year.
  10. Never forget to recognize a birthday, anniversary or someone’s major life event. After all, everyone is human and craves to feel important.

Today, I’m encouraged by the fact that the company has recovered very well, met its sales goals and only suffered the loss of one consultant simply because he didn’t believe that the culture would change.

I would say they are lucky.