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Touching back on my last blog I mentioned that culture needs to become a strategic business priority (like sales, profit, etc.) and not just a HR priority.

boat with leader Source:

Leadership teams can start the creation of high performance cultures by implementing the following 6 steps:

1. Establish a sense of urgency

They need to make it clear that the current culture needs to change, articulate the vision and business case, and describe the opportunity (as John P. Kotter states in his book The 8-Step Process for Leading Change) in a way that appeals to the hearts and minds of people.

2. Develop a set of strategic beliefs

These are the beliefs senior executives have about their organisation’s environment that enables shaping business strategy e.g. Dell believed that customers would, if the price was right, buy computers from a catalogue rather than go to computer stores as the conventional wisdom dictated they would. They created a $7 billion business.

3. Develop a set of values

Values enable the organisation to act on its strategic beliefs and implement their strategy the right way. Values shape the culture of an organisation, define its character and serve as a foundation in how people act and make decisions. Dell’s values supporting its strategy and strategic beliefs include: Delivering results that make a positive difference; leading with openness and optimism and winning with integrity.

4. Capitalise on quick wins

Capitalize on and honour your cultural strengths and act quickly on any critical behaviour changes required.

5. Challenge those norms that get on the way of high performance

Norms are informal guidelines about what is considered normal (what is correct or incorrect) behaviour in a particular situation. Peer pressure to conform to team norms is a powerful influencer on people’s behaviour, and it is often a major barrier affecting change. It is always easier to go along with the norm than trying to change it…. Common samples of negative norms in some organisations: Perception that it is ok to yell at people, ignore people’s opinions, etc.

6. Role model and recognise the desired behaviours

As Gandhi wonderfully put it “Be the change you want to see in the world”. This empowers action and helps embed the desired culture you are trying to create. Behaviour is a function of its consequences. Behaviour that results in pleasant consequences is more likely to be repeated, and behaviour that results in unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated. According to B. F. Skinner and reinforcement theory “future behavioural choices are affected by the consequences of earlier behaviours”. The argument is clear; if you want people to be brave and challenge the status quo, you shouldn’t make them feel awkward or like difficult employees when they do. Furthermore, if want people to contribute at meetings make sure you actively listen to them and act on their suggestions and ideas.


On his famous article “On the folly of rewarding A while hoping for B” Steven Kerr argues that the way in which we reward and recognise people doesn’t always deliver the desired results. We all have being in situations where we are told to plan for long-term growth yet we are rewarded purely on quarterly earnings; we are asked to be a team player and are rewarded solely on our individual efforts; we are told that the way in which results are achieved is important and yet we promote people who achieve results the wrong / in a Machiavellian way. A friend of mine was recently at a hospital and he complained to the ward manager about the doctor’s bad manners and rudeness. The answer he got was “do you want to be treated by the best heart doctor in the country or a not so good doctor but with a really nice bed manner?”.

My argument is why can’t we have both?

Pedro Angulo is the Programme Director of the IMI Diploma in Strategic HR Management starting on 16th November 2016. 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. _____________________________________ [post_title] => 6 Steps to start the creation of high performance cultures [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 6-strategies-start-creation-high-performance-cultures [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 19:48:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 19:48:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 12549 [post_author] => 71 [post_date] => 2015-11-18 10:02:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-11-18 10:02:00 [post_content] =>

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.



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. [post_title] => Building High Performance Cultures [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => building-high-performance-cultures [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:29:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:29:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Ray Collis

Ray Collis

12th Oct 2017

Ray Collis is an IMI associate on the Breakthrough Sales Management Programme. 

Related Articles

3 slick selling techniques you should take from the Time-share Salesperson
6 Steps to start the creation of high performance cultures
Building High Performance Cultures

Sales Performance: Where will you achieve your next breakthrough?

What percentage of your sales / commercial team’s full potential is presently being exploited? This is the BIG question at the heart of the sales performance debate, but one that often results in a surprise. That is because the average across 47 markets and 12 industries is that teams are performing at just 57% of their full potential. That leaves a full 43% (100% minus 57%) of the potential of organisations, their people and their teams left to be exploited.This is something to get excited about, but it requires some new thinking.

New Thinking About Performance

High-performing sales or commercial teams do not naturally occur. They are not accidental either. Bringing a group of intelligent and experienced people together does not make for an effective team. Indeed, far from it.  The performance of a commercial, or any other team, depends on getting a lot of things right.  Indeed, at least seven things:

  • Right People
  • In the Right Roles
  • Doing the Right Work
  • Working together in the Right Way
  • With the Right Resources
  • To achieve the Right Results

At first glance, this may seem like a straight-forward formula, however, when it comes to teams; ‘getting it right’ isn’t easy.  Indeed, teams as often get it wrong as right. So in addition to looking for performance gains in the traditional areas of sales strategy, sales process or sales skills, managers attending the Breakthrough Sales Management Programme at the IMI will also explore opportunities relating to the set-up and structure of their sales and commercial team(s).

Breakthrough sales performance (Photo source)

The New Reality of Performance

Most commercial teams are not designed to deliver sustained high performance. Quite simply, they don’t have the right people in the right roles doing the right work, and if they do, they may not be working together in the right way, with the right resources, or towards the right results.

Most sales and commercial teams evolve with little thought and planning. Managers carefully hire or select people (often at a considerable cost) to join a team. Chosen, based on their past achievements as individuals, they are put working with other similarly talented people. What happens next?  Well, in most cases that are left to chance!  The expectation is that if the ‘right people’ are selected, they will naturally perform as a team. More often than not, the result is a disappointment for all involved.

There is more to performance than simply bringing a group of capable individuals together and calling them a team. Even if you get the right people on the team, that is only one of a total of seven considerations in designing for team performance. Those people must be in the right roles, doing the right work and working towards the achievement of the right results. That is what designing to deliver high performance is all about.

Set-Up for Success?

Is your sales and commercial team set-up for performance and success?  To find out, answer the seven questions below:

Absolutely Disagree = 1

Absolutely Agree = 5

1.   Do you have the right people? 1     2     3     4     5
2.   Are those people in the right roles? 1     2     3     4     5
3.   Are they doing the right work? 1     2     3     4     5
4.   Are they working together in
the right way?
1     2     3     4     5
5.   Have they got the right resources (information, tools, etc.)? 1     2     3     4     5
6.   Are they motivated with the
right rewards/incentives?
1     2     3     4     5
7.   Is the team focused on /delivering the right results? 1     2     3     4     5

If your sales or commercial team scored less than 21 above it will be almost impossible to boost performance, or team cohesion until they are addressed. The message for managers of underperforming teams is change your expectations regarding performance, or alternatively, work on the design of your team.  For many organisations, improvements in this area can deliver a real and sustained breakthrough in sales performance.


Ray Collis is an IMI associate on the Breakthrough Sales Management Programme. Ray is a Facilitator and Director at The ASG Group and the author of 3 books.