How to build a sustainable high-performance organisation

Sustainably liberating a high-performance organisation is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s an essential source of competitive advantage in todays business climate

There are significant benefits in building a sustainable high performance organisation. Stuart Taylor explains how to build a culture of high performance and details the role of HR leaders in the process

The idea of five- to 10-year strategic plans is now out the window for many organisations. Now the focus is on developing a range of future strategic scenarios, alongside investment in building a values-based culture, with strong agility and resilience for change.

Here lies an opportunity to replace a reactive agenda – one that is strained by the economic challenges and competitive pressures – where, for leaders and staff, this way of being can prove to be exciting and inspirational but far too often leads to fear, fatigue and insular focus. Sustainably liberating organisational and personal performance is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s an essential source of competitive advantage in today’s business climate.

What is a sustainable high-performance organisation (SHPO)?
What is the result of achieving sustainable high performance in an organisation? Strategy is clearly articulated and the organisation responds with agility to turbulent external conditions; strategy is executed with calm and deliberate focus. The organisation is able to attract and retain the best people in the market. They invest in developing a values-based culture, starting with leaders who lead for higher purpose aligned with values, compassion, humility, realistic optimism, consciousness and courage.

“The implementation of resilient life practices and conscious leadership styles must extend to all leaders”

This organisation fosters resilient people who liberate high performance in the context of organisation purpose and change, environmental challenge and individual wellbeing. Strong and mutually rewarding relationships are nurtured with all stakeholders. People and teams bounce back from major organisational setbacks. When we achieve the pinnacle of sustainable high performance, this results in a supportive culture with leaders and staff spending more time in flow – a state where we comfortably achieve high levels of health, happiness, performance and engagement.

How do we create an SHPO?
A systematic and integral approach is required here. A systematic approach entails an organisation and intervention that attends to developing the people, culture and business process, as well as taking into consideration the driver of external stakeholder outcome. An integral approach requires that the organisation and intervention focuses on the whole person as defined by body, heart, mind, spirit and observable behaviour, rather than purely on observable behaviour.

SHPO table

Let’s take a closer look at each of these cross-sections of an SHPO. It makes sense to start with leadership, as a top-down rollout is required for impactful shift in organisational culture.

Leading consciously as an executive
The best way to facilitate cultural change is to have senior leaders operating with high levels of consciousness, modelling resilient practices and leading by example. Strong sponsorship by this group is essential, and consideration must be given to both organisational and system enablers for sustainable performance as well as the critical role of leadership and leadership style. Task-oriented leadership styles need to be balanced with other empathy-based and compassion-based leadership styles including coaching, affiliative and visionary styles that attend to personal development, recovery and purpose.

All leadership becomes conscious leadership
The implementation of resilient life practices and conscious leadership styles must extend to all leaders. The critical mass of leaders operating with resilient life practices fosters a calm, healthy and sustainable high-performance culture rather than one characterised by overload, perfectionism and fear. This intervention proves to have a significant positive influence on organisational culture. Decision making becomes more effective; there is greater positivity and creativity; there is higher engagement in the workplace; absenteeism and presenteeism are reduced; and talent is enhanced and retained.

Developing resonant teams
Sustainable high performance doesn’t just naturally follow when there is a collective of resilient high-performance individuals. Specific skill development and relationship building needs to occur to unleash teams that operate at their peak, and in harmony – a state of resonance. What does a resonant team look like? They have clear common goals. They socially invest in each other with empathy and compassion rather than ignorance, contempt or sympathy. They are able to focus on “greater good” and key priorities, and with this focus, conflicts are resolved with clear communication and resource/goal mismatch rather then personal agenda.

“A culture of calm allows leaders and staff to operate more openly and authentically rather than under a veil of fear and self-preservation”

Team members that are struggling are supported with compassion, and roles and resourcing are adjusted based on individuals’ strengths and passions as well as stakeholder needs. It is recognised when there is need for rejuvenation and recovery, and the team generates positivity and celebrates success. They are operating on a level of constructive engagement.

What does it take to develop resilient people?
As learned abilities, resilient people have:

  • Bounce: toughness and recovery skills in adversity and change
  • Courage: enthused by change & challenge
  • Creativity: develop talent & opportunity
  • Connection: humility, respect and care for others and nature.

Providing practical resilience skills education to leaders and staff is essential for a cultural shift towards sustainable high performance. To look deeper into resilience levels and development of people and organisation, we first look at our current resilience assets (competencies that contribute to building resilience) and our resilience liabilities (activities that deplete resilience levels). All five asset levels and associated disciplines shown below are learnable. We take a measurement of mastery of these competencies by engaging in assessments for individuals and teams as well as for the organisation, which allows the senior leaders to track progress towards becoming an SHPO.

Graphic #2-Resilience Assets-copyright The Resilience Institute

Cultural alignment
Building an SHPO requires a culture that fosters a calm and healthy environment for staff to enact their resilience assets. A culture of calm allows leaders and staff to operate more openly and authentically rather than under a veil of fear and self-preservation. A culture of health gives leaders and staff endorsement that investing in one’s energy and immunity is valued. This culture provides a foundation for establishing a high-performance culture that encourages holistic decision making and application of resources to important rather than urgent priorities.

Critical to bedding down a sustainable high-performance organisation (as opposed to a high-performance organisation) is creation of a values-based culture. Beyond a clear definition of organisational values and their linkage to organisational strategy, it is imperative that leaders and staff relate to these values and seek to live by these values. Leaders and staff that demonstrate these values are rewarded; contrary behaviours are not tolerated and are coached and counselled accordingly.

Human impact
When an individual adopts these people practices and is immersed in the aforementioned culture, the result is a lift in human impact through engagement, stamina for change and high personal performance. Body, heart, mind and spirit are all brought to bear to create this impact. Accordingly, people spend more time in flow (place of focus and mastery of strengths in action), and they have greater confidence and presence. Energy levels increase and they know when to rest, recharge and re-engage. They spend more time in positive emotion and are emotionally intelligent. They work to reframe their thinking for change agility, and generate opportunity and optimism in times of pressure or crisis. They understand and enact their values and passions and periodically look to reinvent themselves (self, work and life) by taking on new opportunities.

Social impact
On an interpersonal dimension, the result is a collaborative environment inside and outside the organisation. Trust levels are high. Politics and self-interest are low. Deep relationships are paramount and commonplace. Skillful conflict resolution allows for more win-win outcomes. Beyond this, conflict fuels innovation and greater synergistic contribution to purpose.

Integral impact
Profitable return is a fundamental and necessary measurement of an SHPO. However, on its own, this does not provide the full potential strategic impact of an organisation.

Resilience success equals sustainable high performance
Increasingly, it is the remit for the HR director to be the strategic adviser and coach for the CEO and the executive team as well as the purveyor of transformation and change within the organisation. On many occasions we have worked with HR directors to support them in this capacity.

“It is the remit for the HR director to be the strategic adviser and coach for the CEO and the executive team”

A great example would be our work with a large Australian multinational that exhibited all the hallmarks of the intense, driven, masculine, firefighting, “take no prisoners” culture. After taking the HR director’s team and, subsequently, the executive through an education around the concepts of resilience self-mastery, resilient leadership and the SHPO over the ensuing six months, it was clear that the energy and clarity for change was unanimous and resolute.

What followed was a partnership with the client to understand the resilience of their people and leaders, and the extent to which the culture was supportive of a resilient organisation. Over the course of three years we saw engagement scores improve significantly and a shift in values and cultural norms. It’s noteworthy to see how the organisation and its leaders are now able to face challenge and lead disruption with a more calm and considered agility resting on the shoulders of resilient people.