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Building High Performance Cultures

Organisations are feeling the pressure to hold on to cost savings achieved over the last number of years whilst simultaneously increasing service impact or profit in a challenging economic environment. “You need to do more with less” is the mantra commonly used by executives to encourage people to go the extra mile and exert additional discretionary effort.


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Having implemented lean, re-structuring, right-sizing and other cost saving and business performance enhancing initiatives, executives are starting to run out of ideas on how to continue delivering a lift in business / financial performance and shareholder returns.

An option available to them but, in my personal view, often ignored is the “proactive” creation of a high performance culture. A culture that is developed and continuously improved in a very structured and pragmatic rather than organic manner.

There is a large body of evidence to conclude that an organisation’s culture can either hinder or significantly improve an organisation’s performance levels and financial growth. Yet, many executives find great difficulty in placing culture in the context of high performance /  business because they tend to believe that culture is a phenomenon too ambiguous and complex to be fully understood.

The reason for this misguided assumption is often that most definitions of culture are too theoretical or impractical to be of any real use in real life situations.

Few would argue that people at the top of an organisation, because of their power positions, have a major impact on the people they manage.

It is useful and practical therefore to define culture as a pattern of:

1. Beliefs

2. Values

3. Learning experiences

jack welch

These tend to be inspired by leaders and permeate throughout the whole organisation shaping the behaviour of its members. Jack Welch is a well-known example of a leader whose personality clearly shaped General Electric’s Culture.

The main conclusion that can be derived from this definition is that any effort to create a high performance culture should start and be led from the top. Not just by the HR Director but by the whole leadership team within the organisation.

Culture needs to become a strategic business priority (like sales, profit, etc.) and not just a HR priority.

Pedro Angulo is the new Programme Director of the IMI Diploma in Strategic HR Management and contributes on the IMI Diploma in Executive Coaching. Pedro is an Organisational Effectiveness Business Partner in AIB and Chairperson of the Irish EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). He is a motivational speaker and regular presenter at HR, coaching, change and business conferences / events.

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