What is a High Performance Culture?

by Jo Anne Nelson on March 12, 2013

Many of the organizations we talk to and work with want to build high performance cultures. And, we recently had a conversation with a Fortune 50 company that said they always talk about building a high performance culture, but until they spoke with us they didn’t really know how to define it. So, what is a high performance culture?

To understand what a high performance culture is, we need to first understand how we define culture. Look at multiple dictionaries and you’ll get varying answers. At Aperio International, we think that there are four elements that create an organizational culture: world view, orientation, standards and patterns of behavior.

If that definition applies to all organizational cultures, what is a high performance culture?

The cultures that consistently perform at the highest levels have common characteristics for each element, regardless of the type of business or the market it is in. Perhaps the most important of these is that they are ‘push’ cultures. In a push culture, innovation, elevated performance, value-additive change, excellence in customer experience and relationships are driven from the bottom up. (This is a meaty subject, and has been covered well in Sandy’s post Push vs. Pull Cultures.)

High performance cultures have a world view that they can design a future they choose. Regardless of circumstances, whatever the market dynamics, they believe the world is filled with possibility and opportunity. They will need to learn, adapt and innovate in order to adapt to changing market dynamics, but their world view opens them to a range of possibilities.

Organizations with high performance cultures know that talent is their core asset, and they act accordingly. They model the world view, standards and orientation of the organization, and have limited tolerance for not meeting those standards. Don’t want to meet the standards? No problem, but it’s not a good fit for you here.

They know and act consistent with What Matters in order to bring focus and discipline to execution. They focus on optimizing cross-functional collaboration and the skills needed to continually improve individual, team and organizational performance.

These are just a few of the common characteristics, but answering the simple question ‘what is a high performance culture’ could be a book in itself. But, if you are interested in building a high performance culture, start by reflecting on the characteristics in this post. Ask yourself:

  • Do we believe we can design our future?
  • Are we willing to let go of what we know in order to adapt and innovate?
  • Do we have clearly defined and communicated standards?
  • Do we focus on building cross-functional teams to execute our strategy?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, how can you, and your team, begin to take action to make a change?

What is a high performance culture if not adaptable? Today’s a good time to start making a change.


Jo Anne Nelson

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