The (Not-So) Secret Ingredients to Build a High-Performance Company_Yellow Spark Blog
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The (Not-So) Secret Ingredients to Build a High-Performance Company

Company culture is a word we hear very often these days, whether it’s in a company blog or management articles. But what exactly does it mean? If you ask a wide range of people, chances are you’ll get a wide range of answers.

If I was to give you a loose definition, a company’s culture is what fuels future innovation.

At a very basic level, it shows that employees look forward to going to their jobs, and enjoy being in the workplace. They are not waiting for the day to end. Certainly, a workplace with satisfied employees should translate into a high-performance work culture. We are all aware of the fact that happy employees work harder, longer, and are more in alignment with the company. The benefits are, and should be mutual.

We at Yellow Spark have noticed an increasing emphasis on company culture among our clients and prospective clients. Not only on the client front, but company culture also comes up as one of the top check-boxes when people are looking for jobs. In fact, for many, this is of prime importance when evaluating prospective employers.

So what are the attributes that can set your company apart as a “high-performance workplace”? Let’s dive right in.

1. A Vision is different from a goal:

A company’s mission, vision and values are crucial no matter its size. A vision has to be well thought out and spell out the course of action for at least 5-10 years ahead, tackling long-term challenges and goals. A clear vision shows a serious employee that they can also grow with the company.

However, the vision is not the same as a goal, and should not be confused for the other. A vision is a clear direction where you see your company going in the future, and goals are set with targets to achieve this vision.

An example of a company’s vision is to become zero-waste by 2030. A goal toward this would be to stop using plastic / disposable containers for food and beverages by 2021. Or, another strategic vision is to rank among the top three firms in the business. A way towards this is to overtake the competition in at least the top 3 markets by the next fiscal. It’s okay to have a vision that you can’t be 100% sure you’ll succeed, but it must be at least likely for the organisation to accomplish it.

Often companies assume that only one of the two is necessary. One without the other is like a half-baked cake, neither can be eaten nor is there room to recook it.

Quick tip: Create a vision board along with your key employees. Visualisation is a great exercise to approach your goals creatively, with a big-picture mindset. When you visualise your ideal business or your biggest income goals, you are most certainly priming your mind to achieve them.

2. Holistic, continuous performance management:

Traditional performance management practices have focused on ensuring that subordinates were meeting minimal performance expectations, rather than looking at the potential upper limits. Ideally, the system should strive to elevate performance, rather than meet requirements alone.

An effective performance management system aligns with individual and team goals, as well as the organisation’s goals. An effective system should clearly link the individual’s performance to the organisation’s strategic objectives and current initiatives. When in alignment, there is automatically a culture of taking responsibility rather than having to make employees feel accountable.

To build a high-performance company, managing performance, therefore, becomes the most critical aspect. And you would agree that managing it (performance) only once a year will then not serve the purpose. While reviews can be programmed at regular intervals, employees should have regular check-ins and touch-points with their managers, perhaps as frequent as day to day or week over week to ensure everyone is in sync and en route to achieving their goals set out at the start of the year.

Quick tip: With this approach, a feedback system should be ongoing (quarterly and mid-year reviews) rather than one time, at the end of the year, which usually has a narrow focus only on salary hikes and promotions.

3. Goal-oriented training and development:

As you may have already noticed, everything starts with a goal. The first thing to do when designing a training programme is to not think about training. But rather, think of the goals the company is trying to achieve. Either it wants to ramp up sales, or improve margins by a specific amount, these goals should be made clear to all employees, and should also be part of the company’s written strategic plan, and actively discussed.

Too often training programs are developed without a business goal in mind, and are destined to fail. Many companies approach training is very symptomatic (address the current problem only) versus analytical (what do we need to become in the future) keeping a long-range in mind. If a training programme does not directly impact a company’s business need, it should not be developed. Training should also be developed keeping in mind whether the employee is keen to demonstrate their skills and abilities or have a desire to develop and acquire new skills.

Quick tip: Helping employees develop a learning culture can help increase motivation to participate in training and apply new skills on the job. This will add to the constant innovation of the company and also the personal growth of the employee.

4. Employee engagement:

Focusing on employee engagement helps you create a positive workplace culture that drives organisational success. When employees are satisfied with their job responsibilities, they put extra effort into what they are doing and improve their overall performance. Most organisations focus on deadlines and getting work done instead of focusing on the level of employee engagement in their organisation.

One engaged employee can contribute a lot more to organisational productivity than ten disengaged employees. Good employee engagement helps retain talent and increase productivity. An engaged employee also tends to provide better customer service. But mind you; employee engagement as a concept is way beyond birthday celebrations and an office picnic.

Quick tip: Here are 10 exceptional ways you can boost your employee engagement.

5. Focusing on actual work culture:

Workplace culture is the shared values, belief systems, attitudes that people in a workplace share. This is shaped by several things including an employee’s individual upbringing, social and cultural context. In a workplace, however, the leadership and the strategic organisational directions and management influence the workplace culture to a huge extent.

A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce. Job satisfaction, collaboration, and work performance are all enhanced. And, most importantly, a positive work environment reduces stress in employees.

I find it easy to understand culture when I equate it to a certain an established culture, like

Quick tip: Foster better communication and collaboration, lesser hierarchy and bureaucracy, and making the workplace inclusive.

6. Make employees take ownership:

It’s true you can’t hold on to your employees forever. Every employee who works for you will eventually arrive at a crucial juncture. At that point, you hope they turn your way and buy-in to your leadership and are reminded of the vision and values once again. This means they still see a future for themselves with your company so they’ll go all-in.

Unfortunately, some will turn the other way and quit, often without actually quitting! What they’ll do is, begin to do the bare minimum to keep the job, and be demotivated, and may also negatively influence others too. Your leadership determines how they take ownership of their work and how others react.

Quick tip: Besides a strong vision, employees in goal setting and planning, see if they would like to take on some new role, responsibilities, trust them, provide constructive feedback, hold them accountable and pat them on the back for stepping up! Chances are, most of them will begin to take ownership.

7. Leadership is the cornerstone of high performance:

What could be more vital to a company’s long-term health than the choice and cultivation of its future leaders? And yet, despite companies keeping meticulous notes of candidates who could at a step into key executive functions, an alarming number of newly appointed leaders tend to fail miserably.

Charting a succession plan and a leadership development programme is important. These have to be flexible, and not rigid towards just high-potential employees. They also need to be oriented towards the development of the company. It helps to get down to basics and define the company’s long-term leadership needs. If it’s already established, a leader needs to focus on maintaining growth and pace. If the organisation still has scope to grow, the leadership has to be forward-looking and aggressive.

The employees you pick for the programme need to be continuously evaluated, through mentoring and shadowing. Sometimes, the people whom you have placed the least bets on a win so avoid tunnel visioning and make sure you have a bunch of people to rely on. Also, along with leadership training focus on retention of promising employees.

Quick tip: Three leadership mantras that will elevate you are, keeping your promises and commitments, listening actively, and connecting the company’s vision to daily tasks.

Creating and maintaining a high-performance culture can be challenging, but it can be done. Becoming the best at something often happens by modelling the behaviours of winners and putting those into practice. The specifics of a high-performance culture are unique to each company and it’s up to you to reach your desired goals. However, just observe.

There are always some common signs that are visible from the outside. I’ve seen them in companies big and small. And their absence is very evident. Ultimately, the most obvious sign of a high-performance organisation is that things just seem to get done. That’s because people get things done!

Yellow Spark conducts leadership training to rekindle the leadership spark, and to ensure better organisational productivity. To know more write to us at

Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.

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The (Not-So) Secret Ingredients to Build a High-Performance Company
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Published on:  March 12, 2020