Developing a high-performance workplace culture

Michael Minns provides his insights into creating a high-performance culture where productivity, performance and people prosper

Developing a high-performance workplace culture

Michael Minns provides his insights into creating a high-performance culture where productivity, performance and people prosper

Throughout the world there is an increasing awareness of the importance of workplace culture and its causal impact on an organisation's performance and profitability. However, alongside this ever-increasing awareness comes an increasing level of ignorance and misunderstanding of the true nature of workplace culture. Is it by design or by default? How is it recognised and identified - by survey or observation? And who is responsible for the culture - HR or the CEO?

An example of this workplace culture ignorance is the use of employee surveys and questionaries (more accurately described as opinionnaires) with pre-determined questions scored on a scale of 1-10 - these do nothing more than create survey fatigue. Reality is that a workplace culture will present as acts of commission or omission and will exist on two levels: one being observable and public and the other being hidden and under the surface. However, the truth of the matter is that workplace cultures are embedded in a workplace’s Policies, Procedures and Practices.

Thus, any review or assessment of a workplace cultural starts with a review of the Policies, Procedures and Practices of the organisation. This is also the starting point of a change management program.

Having conducted a number of Culture Due Diligence exercises and Change Management Interventions we have identified a number of common characteristics embedded in an organisation's Policies, Procedures and Practices that are contrary to and a hinderance to the development of a High-Performance Workplace Culture.

We have named these individual characteristics ‘Red Flags’ and collectively they form another workplace cultural paradigm known as the culture of Under-Management. Creditable research by Bruce Tuglan (2004) finds that Under-Management is in epidemic proportions around the world.

Following is a list of Red Flags commonly found in Policies Procedures and Practices of organisations contrary to a High-Performance Work Place Culture:

  • A Performance Appraisal System.
  • A Strategic Plan that is neither strategic nor a plan.
  • Position Titles that are misleading. The head of HR being the Manager of People and Culture. The question is “what the CEO is is accountable for?”
  • Exit Interviews being conducted at the wrong time, by the wrong person and asking the wrong questions.
  • Monetary Incentives in any form. Keeping your job should be your only motivation to doing the best you can. Money incentives only motive people to earn more money and nothing else. Refer to the current Banking Enquiry.
  • KPI’s that are centred on inputs and processes rather than the organisations purpose and mission.
  • Fad Surfing; the practice of riding the crest of the latest management panacea (Shapiro 1996).
  • Corporate Values are a humanistic concept. Organisations don’t have values; however, people that work there do. Enron’s values of Respect, Integrity, Communications and Excellence didn’t stop senior managers being jailed, nor did they prevent the demise of professional services firm Arthur Anderson.
  • Hiring for skills. Skills are the easiest of all human characteristic to change, while attitude is the most difficult.
  • Absentee Management. Sick leave is for sick people. It is a benefit not an entitlement. The Australasian Society of General Practitioner’s research reveals that the average number of days absent per person per year is 9 - of which about half are medically related.

The Under-Management epidemic is so widespread that it is usually not recognised as an issue by many, particularly by those who define a corporate culture as "The Way We Do Things Around Here”. (Bower 1966)

This approach is erroneous and, in fact, confirms the status quo. It is a classic example of the 10,00 Blow Fly Syndrome, which states: “We all should eat cow dung. How could 10,000 blowflies be wrong?” Under-Management is any situation where a manager or supervisor fails to provide the basic elements of management and leadership (two mutually exclusive concepts) to their direct reports and further; are willing to hive off these accountabilities to a Policy or a Procedure or a Practice or even a Digital Platform.

The appropriate action would be a hands-on interactive exercise using whites of their eyes communications where Leaders say "Come On" and Managers say “Go On”. It is a personal interactive process.

"Why is it so?" is the question asked in the event of any cultural due diligence exercise on a brown field site.

The answer is: “Because It is embedded in the organisations Polices, Procedures and Practices.”

However, on a green field site, such as a new mine or new infrastructure project, while the objective is the same the task is different.

The development of a High-Performance Workplace Culture is hindered by the range of attitudes of the newly recruited management team and the leadership skills of the CEO.

This raises the question of whether or not the senior leadership team were hired for attitude or were they hired for technical skills and are they going to bring old habits to the new venture.

Will they fit in to the strategy of developing a ‘High-Performance Workplace Culture where Productivity, Performance and People Prosper’?

About the author

Michael Minns is a HR/OD Consultant who, in 1983, formed the consultancy that bears his name MICHAEL MINNS HUMAN RESOURCES, which is regarded as oldest and most experienced in Australia.


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