In a high performance workforce people at every level and in every function are clear on the connections between their work and the success of the organization. This means everyone is focused on the right priorities, they know exactly what they have to do and they are clear on their accountability for delivering the right results. They are enthused and engaged and they are in the right role to give their best. They are ready and willing to develop the necessary skills and behaviours to achieve business success.

The bottom line is — a high performance workforce gives you a significant advantage in achieving organizational success. Research predicts a minimum of 5% productivity improvement all the way up to 35%. As a way of visualising this — the minimum 5% improvement is equivalent to your people having an extra 2 hours productivity per week.

Building a High Performance Workforce

Research from the Corporate Leadership Council concludes that to build a high performance workforce — organizations need to think beyond the typical performance management system. A high performance culture is much more than filling in appraisal forms and following a performance management process. It is not a quick fix and it requires commitment to creating a sustainable approach to performance improvement. It is a culture that goes beyond short term metrics and one that must include a range of organizational, managerial and individual principles.

1. Organizational Principles:

The Performance Management System — Ensure all employees understand what is expected of them, what the expected standards of performance are and how these will create organizational success. Provide feedback from multiple sources — not just from the direct manager.

A High Performance Culture — Encourage the taking of risks aligned to organizational objectives. Remove the fear of failure. Ensure good communications and allow a free flow of business performance information. Differentiate between good and poor performers.

2. Managerial Principles:

Interaction with employees — Help your people find solutions to business problems; coach them don’t tell them. Provide the resources needed by the team to be successful. Set clear and consistent expectations. Do not chop and change plans and priorities.

Formal Reviews — Emphasize the positive. Only discuss performance weaknesses when you also have specific suggestions for improving performance. Formal reviews should also discuss your employees’ long—term career aspirations.

Informal Feedback — Specific, timely, accurate, balanced feedback from a knowledgeable source is the most powerful driver of high performance.

3. Employee Principles:

Day to day work — Take time to match people to their roles. People who understand and enjoy their work perform better. Provide the big picture – explain how roles and current assignments contribute to your organizational success.

Opportunities — Provide people with opportunities which enable them to utilize their strengths. Training provided should be relevant to their assignment and their role. Timely training and on-the-job coaching provides the best learning.

Implementing a High Performance Workforce

The good news is that these principles are simple to understand. Both managers and employees can intuitively understand the connection to improved performance. Done effectively the benefits of high performance workforce can be achieved without the need for huge capital expenditures, high-profile change programmes and major upheavals.

However simple should not be confused with easy. To execute successfully; the organisation’s leaders must position high performance as a key priority. They have to insist that line managers (not HR) become the champions of high performance activities.

The first step is for the managers of other line managers to hold line managers accountable for performance improvement in their staff. This starts by including performance management-related goals into managers’ own performance expectations.