Creating a High Performance Culture – Peter Drucker, the legendary management guru says that ‘business culture eats strategy’. By this, he means that the most successful companies are those which build positive, powerful high performance culture.

But doing this – whether you are building a new company with a fresh culture from scratch, or reshaping an existing one, is notoriously tricky. Where exactly do you begin?

Defining your starting point

Your company’s culture is its values, practices and norms; also described as ‘the way we do things round here’. It is key to performance because it mobilises action, effort and motivation, and it anchors business strategy into place. To create a truly great business culture you need excellent leadership, clear values, great organisational tools and expert change management.

Know why you’re doing it

Research categorically demonstrates that businesses with the best cultures will outperform the competition. McKinsey carried out a global study in 2007 across 231 companies to discover that those firms with the best organisational culture were over twice as likely to enjoy greater profitability than those without. These included brands which are well known for having superb enabling business cultures, including Disney, Apple, Google and P&G.

Remember too, your business culture can be one of the few remaining key areas where you can create competitive advantage in the longer-term. But it is notoriously difficult to do and requires a structured programme of development and rollout that begins at the top.

The role of your leaders

A great culture starts with your leaders. Very often, it starts with the vision and charisma of the CEO. But don’t worry if your CEO isn’t a figurehead individual – a cohesive, passionate, effective and co-ordinated senior leadership team are perfectly positioned to drive forwards change. The entire conversation and expectation around organisational culture must happen visibly and meaningfully at this top level and then filter down.

Making it happen

Your leadership team needs to initiate the culture change programme. Engage your people in the plan and then agree on a process of creating the company’s shared vision and values. There are different ways to doing this. Many companies will hold a strategy workshop with leaders and employees at all levels, discussing – with a skilled moderator – what they believe the company’s values are, and the leadership team will define the vision. Some companies will propose both vision and values from the top, and then invite comment and input from representatives from around the business. The important thing is that employees feel as though they have ownership of both outputs. If the values don’t resonate with your people, they simply won’t be adopted.

Remember: company vision and values must incite passion and motivation from your people – so they need to feel that they can drive them and help shape them. Otherwise, they will become nothing more than words on a poster and be forgotten! As another useful tip – the strongest corporate cultures focus on ‘we’ statements that unify action, such as “We place customer experience at the heart of everything we do.”


Leaders also need to be responsible for beginning the communications process across the organisation. With the skill of internal communications professionals and the change management team as available, there must be open and frank conversations about the new intended culture. This must include debate about the blockers that currently prevent the vision and values from being adopted. This conversation needs to flow organically rather than being structured by hierarchy. It should also extend to key stakeholders such as suppliers and customers. The key here is to show real willing to meaningfully change the culture – by signalling intent with the new values and then visibly removing any blockers that would prevent them from being achieved.

Remember: It is useful to have a corporate culture working group that meets regularly with representatives of all levels across the business, to discuss ideas, issues and progress and to report back to the teams. This must be attended by at least one senior leader who will listen and take visible action. Use a CEO Strategy Map to drive the meeting

Process and right-sizing

With the business strategy in place, the business structure must evolve to fit the new shape and defined ethos of the company. This will mean defining any new roles and responsibilities, adjusting processes as part of removing cultural blockers, freeing up information flows and adopting suggested new approaches that will enable employees to perform. As part of the process, there must be a visible commitment from the leadership team to invest in great performance through training and development and to recognise it with a reward culture.

Remember: Embed the new values into performance review processes and ensure that rewards and promotion are delivered according to performance. Set all individual and team metrics to support the broader business strategy and ensure that the softer values are also included as part of performance review, so that behaviours and values are being measured – as well as outcomes. This ensures that everyone does things in ‘the right way’, rather than simply chasing results.

Creating a high performance culture takes time, energy and skill. You need to be 100% committed as a leader to making it happen – and prepared to win the hearts and minds of everyone that works for you in order to change. You also need to be prepared to accept that some people will not be ready to take the journey with you, and will need to move on. But with a structured approach, energy, determination and clarity of the need to change, the benefits of high performance will come. Not only will your company financials start to see a change, but you will also see, feel and experience it every time you set foot inside the office and feel the buzz!