There are six habits that evidence-based leaders regularly practice, according to Stacey Barr, who says that these personal and organisational habits help build high-performance cultures

Evidence-based leadership is the path to a high-performance culture. But it’s not about how to lead. It’s not about how to communicate or how to inspire or how to direct, or how to engage. It’s about how to apply all these attributes to create a high-performance organisation. It’s about what to give our attention to as we lead.

It’s not about how to lead; it’s about what to lead.
What we give our attention to is the performance of the organisation. We communicate the results that matter, so everyone understands them. We inspire everyone to reach for higher performance targets, to achieve the results that matter. We set direction and help each team find their contribution to it. We engage everyone so they feel ownership of their contribution. How we lead is important, and what we emphasise through our leadership is just as important.

To lead an organisation to high performance, a strong emphasis must be given to the role of evidence. Evidence-based leaders pursue high performance by speeding up the cycle of closing performance gaps — the gaps between where the organisation’s performance is right now, and where they want it to be. This is why evidence-based leaders give a lot of attention to results-based performance measures.

“How we lead is important, and what we emphasise through our leadership is just as important”

Evidence-based leaders practice three personal habits of high-performance
There are three personal habits of high performance that evidence-based leaders master. They personally practise them, and by practising them routinely they become role models for their organisations. These leadership habits are called direction, evidence and execution.

Direction is about articulating a well-designed strategy that is results-oriented, understandable to everyone, and ruthlessly prioritised. Having just a few strategic goals, that are written in language a 10-year old could understand, will inspire everyone far more easily than those typical weasely goals.

Evidence is about setting meaningful performance measures for each strategic goal that are quantitative, aligned to what matters and focused on improvement. A meaningful measure is deliberately designed from the most convincing and observable evidence that the goal is achieved. Brainstorming can’t do this.

Execution is about implementing the corporate strategy and achieving the strategic goals using the leverage found in the continuous improvement of business processes. Powerful strategic initiatives, therefore, do not treat symptoms. They deal directly with the root causes that constrain performance.

“The best way for people to own their contribution to strategy is that they design their own goals, based on their understanding of their own work and how it drives corporate results”

Evidence-based leaders inspire three organisational habits of high-performance
Through the practice, and ultimately the mastery, of these leadership habits, leaders inspire high-performance habits organisation wide. These organisational habits are decision, action and learning.

Decision is about helping people take ownership of the results that matter by role-modelling ownership, getting their buy-in and giving them a clear line of sight to the corporate strategy. The best way for people to own their contribution to strategy is that they design their own goals, based on their understanding of their own work and how it drives corporate results.

Action is about helping people get the right things done to achieve the results that matter, through a focus on causal analysis, practicality and collaboration. People need the authority and time to make working on the business a part of their ‘real work’; not just working in the business on their day-to-day tasks.

Learning is about helping people work on the business as a normal part of their work, by adopting an experimental mindset, learning from failure and iterating to success. When performance measures are used as tools to learn about process performance (and not as rods for people’s backs), performance improvement can accelerate. There is no failure, while there is learning that leads to performance improvement.

“The senior leadership team, led by the CEO, begins practising the habits of evidence-based leadership before asking anything of the rest of the organisation”

A high-performance culture starts at the top
The point is that when performance measures are used to monitor results and diagnose how to elevate performance, a different culture emerges. People will embrace accountability as the practice of problem-solving, not blame. They will be curious and collaborative and consequently will appreciate how to work on the business and not just in it. Ownership and transparency will increase, and performance will improve. But it must start from the top.

Starting at the top means that the senior leadership team, led by the CEO, begins practising the habits of evidence-based leadership before asking anything of the rest of the organisation. They will be practising the habits of direction and evidence and execution. Starting at the top is the quickest and easiest way to get rolling on the journey of high-performance, because employees follow what leaders do. It’s too risky for them to do otherwise. Even if leaders say with great gusto ‘Start measuring what matters!’, nothing will change if they aren’t doing it themselves.

The leadership habits are practised by evidence-based leaders in their own domain of corporate strategy. And the organisational habits of decision, action and learning are what evidence-based leaders will inspire throughout the organisation, from top to bottom, as the strategy is cascaded.

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