Creating a high performance culture.

At the recent Vivid talks in Sydney I had the privilege of listening to a variety of industry experts talk about a range of topics, from the multi generation work forces that employers are now dealing with to leadership, C21 talent and culture. Speakers ranged from the engaging Dr Fiona Kerr, Paul D’Arcy and Rahaf Hafoish, to name a few. The emphasis on most talks that day was around leadership, change and culture going hand in hand.

This struck a huge cord with me especially, based on what we are doing at Nakama and being able to observe many of the organisations we work with. For our clients and for us, finding good talent is key and the word culture gets used a great deal. What makes a great culture? How do some organisations quickly align with a common set of practices while others don’t? Being a multi geographical organisation, how do we continue to coordinate and integrate efforts globally? We are well on the way to setting clear values, expectations and processes, but how does any organisation prevent them from falling behind, or in some cases, operating behind the curve every step of the way.

Leadership within an organisation is the driver for culture. What interests me is how and why some organisations and leaders are able to achieve significant and lasting performance that catapults them ahead of the competition (or falls flat). What is the criteria for success vs. failure?

One of our training partners has continued to do great work with us on what defines our Nakama culture. Most of you will remember the breakout session, looking at how we define culture as “the way things get done around here.” This drives behaviour and ultimately performance. If a business, no matter how large or small, is able to define and set very clear and aligned values and processes, it has been proven that it will consistently outperform those that cannot. That does not mean that we should not look to evolve. One of the take home points for any leadership group is that you need to understand what you need to do to stay relevant – when to pivot according to the environment you operate in.

So what does a business and leadership team in today’s environment need to deliver high performance? There are numerous opinions on this. The 4 that resonate the most with me are:

  1. We must understand that we don’t work the way we used to and that we need to lead and manage differently. The workplace is changing and that includes traditional business models. We are now in a commercial environment where adoptive leadership is increasingly important. Agile workplaces are quicker to grasp this than traditional business models.
  1. Businesses and leaders within must have the ability to identify and to let go of the existing behaviours and practices that are no longer contributing to success. Getting people to acknowledge and understand that certain ways of doing things are no longer effective and actually getting them to change is a challenge all businesses face. Businesses that get this right take the time to change behaviours that are no longer supporting the desired goals. A common failure is that management dictate change and this in nearly all cases leads to failure. It is a big deal for people to be comfortable with giving up the way they’ve always done things. Some take it as what they’ve been doing all along was wrong.  Fear is a huge factor: “I might not be able to succeed if asked to do things differently!” Most importantly, leaders need to be role models for the behaviour and expectations, as if they don’t, then nothing will change.
  1. The ability to include all relevant stakeholders in the conversation is key. You cannot build a culture that is not centred on a collective concept. Leadership within an organisation has a huge responsibility for developing and demonstrating the culture, however it is not all down to them. Stakeholder input is key and if you have an environment that develops trusting relationships then you have a much stronger chance of the collective contributing to, and creating, the culture.
  1. Last but not least, everyone needs to be able to take a long hard look in the mirror. We operate in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and the speed of business and change is moving faster than ever before. If you cannot take stock, pause for a moment to think and answer the simple or difficult questions, then you run the risk of continuing to do things exactly the way you always have. The challenges that businesses face now have changed and evolved over time, just as the culture of an organisation needs to. If you are able to pause then you are going to be far better positioned as an individual or organisation to identify the need to change or not, in order to keep pace with the market and drive results.

Leadership within organisations needs to navigate and change or overcome deeply rooted assumptions and behaviours within the environment that are preventing success. This can only happen if you are willing to take a long hard look in the mirror, ask the difficult questions and dig deep into what needs to change. That is the only way you can encourage people to let go of the traditional behaviours that, in many cases, no longer serve the purpose and goals of the organisation.


Rob Sheffield is Nakama’s APAC CEO and is based in Sydney.

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