12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Powerhouse

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

Why Employees Are Unengaged

Disengaged employee

The True Impact of Employee Engagement

 

There’s one phrase that often goes unheard in the workplace, yet has a huge impact on a company’s success: employee engagement.

Most business leaders have the mentality that they’re responsible for providing work; employees are responsible for getting it done. Under this logic, it’s up to the employees to motivate themselves day in and day out.

However, it’s practically impossible to stay motivated in an unsupportive environment (which is probably why 70% workers are disengaged from their jobs).

 

Fact: 70% of workers are disengaged from their jobs.

 

Disengagement is a defense mechanism. Employees distract themselves from what makes them unhappy (work) with other things they deem more fulfilling, like looking for new jobs, talking to friends, or watching funny cat videos.

 

“When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” –Simon Sinek

 

This helpful illustration from Company Folders provides an eye-opening look at just how low employee engagement could be affecting you. (In the U.S. alone, companies could save up to $350 billion a year through increased employee engagement.)

Read on to learn what’s causing employees to disengage and how you can help them get back on track.

 

“To win in the workplace you must first win in the workplace.” –Doug Conant

 

Why Leaders Must Prioritize Health and Wellness

Business Health Fitness

Prioritize Your Health

Leaders are especially vulnerable to stress. Often leaders put others first and sacrifice their own wellbeing in the process. That’s not a recipe for long-term success and often results in failure.

Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.

After reading her book, The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership, I asked her about her research and experience in leadership health and fitness.

 

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” –Antoine De Saint Exupery

 

Your Health and Your Leadership

When did you realize that prioritizing health was linked to leadership?

Leadership is fundamentally about being able to set a vision and persist over the long run as you lead yourself and others to take on big challenges and work toward the finish line, so it seems like making health a priority would be a no-brainer, right? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that taking care of ourselves affects our energy levels and stamina in the long run.

However, in my experience, this is the one aspect of personal excellence that leaders are most likely to struggle with—and this is true across industries, types of organizations, and roles. As the work piles up, self-care often takes a back seat to other more “pressing” priorities, which almost never leads to good outcomes in the long run.

 

“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” -Booker T. Washington

 

More often than not, leaders who don’t prioritize their health either become unbearable to work with because they they’re dehydrated, or tired, or stressed, or “hangry”—or they start to get sick. I’ve worked with people who’ve developed diabetes, pre-diabetes, and even heart disease because they’ve put work ahead of their health. I’ve also known people who’ve gained or lost too much weight because of work and even someone who eventually had an aneurism. I’m not saying that there weren’t other factors that played a role in some of these cases, but all of these examples are of people who put work ahead of self-care, and I think they (and their teams and organizations) suffered for it.

After seeing this pattern of behavior and outcomes over and over again, it became clear to me that managing your health is a key component of being an effective human being and a successful leader.

Copyright Kate Haley Photography Copyright Kate Haley Photography

 

 

“Tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today.” –Malcolm X

 

The Dangers of Putting Work Ahead of Self

Why do you think so many people miss this important link (leadership / wellness) to their detriment?

I think putting work ahead of self-care actually comes from a good place—a desire to put forth our best effort and do as much good as possible, and people can be very effective in the short run by working this way (I’ve definitely had moments, for example, where I’ve sacrificed sleep in order to meet a big deadline).

The problem arises when we consistently put “achievement” ahead of our health and wellness, which simply isn’t sustainable in the long run—and I think The New Alpha gives people permission to re-prioritize their health and wellness, even if it means perhaps being slightly less effective on a few short-term tasks.

 

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” –Winston Churchill

 

4 Steps to Improve Your Health Today

What Is That Smell in the Office?

This is an excerpt from The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters, by Richard A. Moran, permission of Taylor & Francis Group. I hope you enjoy his humor as much as I do.

The advent of microwaves ovens created a brave new world at work. The office no longer needed to reek of printer toner and whiteboard markers alone. The office could now smell of microwave popcorn!

Ah, but it didn’t stop there. We can pop something out of the freezer (with the notes on it about cleaning up after yourself) and cook a lasagna or chicken potpie. Going even further, the microwave is now the new home for cooking leftovers. How many of us have been distracted by what we know is a reheated bean burrito or beef chow mein that was nuked just a little too long? The smell of reheated burritos can be as distracting as the guy in the cubicle next door who talks to his mother all day.thethingaboutwork

I dare you to hold a serious meeting when the smell from the garlic in the clam linguini works its way through the halls. The mind wanders in the hope that we don’t sit next to that person in the next meeting. What was not eaten at the restaurant last night does not go home, it ends up in the office microwave. The odors are shared by all.

Some say that leftovers in the office create community when everyone goes out in the hall and asks, what is that smell? Who is cooking that? Leftovers allow colleagues to share their restaurant experiences, and leftovers are the inspiration for the ironclad rule about implementation: whatever is left in the refrigerator on Friday will be thrown away.

It is always good to know that inspiration about execution can come from new sources, like leftovers. And sometimes they are best left at home.

 

Excerpts fromThe Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters, by Richard A. Moran, permission of Taylor & Francis Group.