Think of the high performers you know. Perhaps a particular colleague comes to mind. Or maybe you thought of yourself! Whoever it is, it’s no accident that they are a high performer.
It’s important to remember that high performance is not an achievement in and of itself. It is a way of being—a consistent way of operating that produces consistently exceptional results. Said another way, high performance is the culmination of your everyday habits.
Becoming a leader of high-performing employees
As a leader, creating a culture of high performance also requires that you adopt habits of communicating, thinking and acting. A culture of high performance begins with you, not just in terms of your ongoing individual performance, but also in terms of the standards you set and habits you cultivate with every interaction you have at the office.
Here are three leadership habits that foster a high-performing culture:
Habit #1: Clearly define success in everything you do
An overall vision of where your organization is going, what you are working to achieve and why it matters, along with clearly defined goals for measuring success is certainly a great place to start. But defining success is more than a high-level exercise you may do once a year at an annual retreat or strategy session. If you want to cultivate a high-performing culture, consider that defining success needs to become a habit at every level. Whether you are launching a new project, designing a new process or system, running a meeting or preparing for an important conversation, start by getting clarity around about what success looks like. As Stephen Covey tells us, “Begin with the end in mind.”
The habit of clearly defining success for everything you and your team does ensures everyone is working toward the same goal. This one habit is essential to creating the level of alignment and collaboration that are exhibited by consistently high performing teams.
Habit #2: Negotiate clear and mutually-satisfying agreements
The notion of “exceeding expectations” is a common one when we assess performance. There is a common belief that high performance is exceeding the expectations of others whether it is our boss or our customer. The problem with expectations, however, is that they are potentially a moving target over which you often have little control. Or you may have too little understanding of what the expectations were to begin with!
The alternative to striving to exceed expectations is to negotiate clear agreements and holding each other accountable for delivering the goods. This might look something like this: “Jane, when you are done creating the PowerPoint presentation for next week’s department meeting, I will review it and offer feedback by Wednesday afternoon. This will give you time to make any changes before the meeting.” Jane clearly knows what happens after she creates the presentation (her manager will check it and offer feedback). As her manager, you are the hook to help Jane—she can’t be successful without your contribution.
Contrast this orderly process with endeavoring to “exceed expectations.” It’s a bit like trying to reach a bar held by someone else who keeps moving it out of your reach. On the other hand, agreements are like a strong satisfying handshake signifying that there will be a satisfying exchange of value in your relationship.
Consider that the foundation of a high-performing culture consists of a network of mutually-satisfying relationships. The habit that creates mutually satisfying relationships is negotiating clear and mutually satisfying agreements.
Habit #3: Keep the shared “why” alive
High-performing teams consist of individuals who share a common purpose. They are empowered and encouraged to go beyond the status quo for a bigger reason. Why we are doing something and why it matters is the essential fuel for raising the level of intention and emboldening people to step beyond the status quo. A compelling “why” motivates individuals and teams to be more and to do more.
“I was working with an Olympic gold medal sprinter. One day I said, "When you're lined up against all these other sprinters, and the difference in winning and losing is hundredths of a second, how do you know who is going to win?" He said, "I would put my money on the person who says, 'I'm going to do this for my mom.'"
It is far too easy for people to get caught up in the daily grind of activities and lose their connection to why what they do matters. Working hard in the absence of a larger purpose all too often leads to a dissatisfied and unengaged workforce.
Keeping the “why” alive is actually easy to do: simply focus on doing so in the everyday conversations you have with those you lead. By keeping the “why” present consistently, you will foster alignment, as well as an experience of connection to each other and the future. By keeping the “why” alive, you also remind people of why they matter because ultimately why what we do matters translates into why we matter.
The culture of any organization lives in the conversations and interactions people have on a daily basis. Each of these habits is designed to instill a high-performing culture by consciously raising the quality of your everyday conversations and interactions with those you lead.