4 Ways to Detect if your Performance-Based Culture is more than Lip Service

Brad Lindemann

How many of you have worked for or currently work for an organization that claims to be a "performance-based culture"? Did you know you were working in a performance-based culture before you were "told" you were working for one? Who told you it was a performance-based culture? Someone from HR? Your boss? A peer, or the CEO during an all company meeting?

Besides someone "telling you" that your organization is a performance-based culture, what actions, activities, and processes exist that give you any sort of indication that it is indeed such an environment? Lets’ examine.

What does it mean to be a "performance-based culture"?

The term performance is defined (general) as: Accomplishment of a given task measured against preset standards. The term culture is defined (w/in an organization) as: Pervasive, deep, largely subconscious, and tacit code that gives the 'feel' of an organization and determines what is considered right or wrong, important or unimportant, workable or unworkable in it, and how it responds to the unexpected crises, jolts, and sudden change.

These definitions probably read as somewhat "obvious" and make sense to most. When you put them together to form a definition for "performance-based culture", how does your understanding match with what you experience within your organization? Do you think your organization is truly a performance-based culture, striving to be one, or just words used by the C-Suite? Certainly the decision to create, pursue, and install a performance-based culture rests with the executive leadership team (C-Suite) and MUST be consistently driven/supported on an ongoing basis by them as well. The executive leadership team has to lead by example and insist on 100% adoption throughout the entire organization.

However, an organization can not claim to have a performance-based culture until the philosophy, processes, tactical execution, and comprehension of what it means be one becomes inherent within every employee, and part of the organizational DNA. It is much more than just the spoken words from the C-Suite or other senior leaders. Each and every employee must know exactly what objectives they are accountable for executing, and how their performance against those specific objectives is going to be measured.

How does one define & measure "performance"?

1. Specific, Appropriate, Aligned Objectives

Each and every employee must know exactly what objectives they are accountable & responsible for executing. It is up to both the organization and individual employee to make sure that the defined objectives’ are the "right objectives". Having the right objective means not only meeting criteria of the below, but also being aligned to the rest of the organization above that individual so that when executed well, their accomplishment contributes to the overall success of the organization.

2. Timely

It is equally important in a performance-based culture to not only define the right objectives, but to make sure that such objectives are defined, communicated to, and agreed upon by every employee in a timely manner so that the individual can plan and execute successfully for self and organization.

For example, if a company’s fiscal year mirrors the calendar year, January 1 is the official start of the new performance period. Have you ever worked for a company that claims to be a performance-based culture yet they can’t seem to get individual goals and objectives set until March or April of the New Year? Organizational budgeting and annual planning is completed before the year starts, therefore so must individual performance objectives & plans. It is up to the C-Suite to make timeliness for establishing individual performance objectives a priority for the organization, IF they are going to truly have a performance-based culture.

3. Actionable

Any defined and agreed upon objectives must also be actionable by the individual who is responsible for delivering them. For example, for a middle-manager to have an objective of "increasing shareholder value" is not an appropriate objective for that position based on the level of authority. An objective more appropriate and actionable by a middle-manager might be to "deliver client results on time and on budget for a specific portfolio of clients".

4. Results are Measurable

At the core of any performance-based culture is the delivery of quantifiable, measurable results. There is absolutely no value in giving an individual an objective if there is no way to measure whether or not the objective is ever met. This is usually the most challenging component of establishing effective individual objectives, and the most important.

Additionally, and especially if there are financial considerations tied to an individuals measurable performance results, any quantifiable results should be auditable.