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

The Secret to Higher Profits in a Digitized World

people shock

The Decline of Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is going down, not up.

How can that be in a world with unprecedented technological progress?

 

“A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, and the off strategy.” –Scott Bedbury

 

Tema Frank founded Web Mystery Shoppers International, the world’s first company to test omnichannel customer service. Her new book, People Shock: The Path to Profits When Customers Rule , shows off both her decades of business experience and the research from interviewing over 150 business leaders. She developed a formula to help businesses improve the customer experience in the midst of a digitized world.

I recently asked her about her research.

 

“The key to getting work done on time is to stop wearing a watch.” –Ricard Semler

 

What is PeopleShock?

As we automate more and artificial intelligence wipes out jobs, the smaller amount that is left for human to human interaction becomes critical. Companies that are people-focused (while using technology to support those people) are the ones that will win in an era of increasing competition and social media power. If you get the people side right, PeopleShock is your key to success. Ignore it and your company will soon be history.

 

“If you’re too busy to build good systems, then you’ll always be too busy.” –Brian Logue

 

Get the 3Ps of Profit Right

Please share your 3P Profit Formula with our audience.

Customers are cranky, and they’ve got more choices than ever before. So you’ve got to keep them happy, and that means getting all of the 3 Ps of Profit right:

Promise – Having a clear aspirational, inspirational and memorable reason for doing what you do inspires staff and customers. It also gives staff a filter for decision-making: Would their action be consistent with the company’s promise?

People – Business success comes from connecting effectively at a human level with people inside (staff) and outside your organization. Outsiders include not only prospects and customers, but people we sometimes overlook, like suppliers, distributors, lenders, investors, media and the public.

Process – As time goes by, some of the processes that got you to where you are stop making sense.  To deliver consistently great customer experiences, you have to regularly re-assess how you’ve been doing things. Start by looking at processes from a customer point of view. What do they experience? Then look at how that lines up with what you do internally.

 

“CEOs are the ones who must conduct the corporate orchestra.” –Tema Frank

 

How does this translate into higher profits?

One Surprising Influence That Can Derail Your Decisions

Taking decisions
Patrick McDaniel is the founder of WiseInsights.net, which combines practical research and timeless wisdom to help you keep moving forward despite the challenges of life. Want to learn about 49 other decision making distortions? Download the infographic: 50 Hidden Influences That Can Wreck Your Decisions.

Why do you aspire to be a leader?

Let’s be honest. We want to be leaders because we like leading and influencing people and organizations toward better things. We like impacting lives.

But impacting lives can also be risky.

If you are a leader (in any context like work, family, ministries/organizations), one thing that is unavoidable—

Your decisions WILL impact the lives of others. For good…or for bad.

That is a sobering reality.

 

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” –Roy Disney.

 

Making Decisions as a Leader – An Unseen Danger

Here’s where it gets downright scary: There are factors at play in any decision you make that are often hidden and frequently mess up your best intentions.

These factors are like little gremlins that hijack your ability to make an unbiased decision. That can mess up not only your life but also those you lead.

Let me show you how just one of these distortion factors (technically known as “cognitive biases”) can screw up even your best efforts to make sound decisions…and how to combat it.

 

“We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.” –Ken Levine

 

One Common Corrupting Influence You Can’t See

One common decision making influencer is called priming. Just like the proverbial “priming the pump,” we are influenced in certain directions when we are first “primed” by another variable.

Here are some bizarre-but-true examples of the priming effect. You can find these discussed in detail in the brilliant book Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

 

“It’s in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” –Tony Robbins

 

The Surprising Results of One Research Study

In a test performed by Psychology Professor John Bargh, participants were asked to do a word puzzle. One group received random words to work on while the second group got random words that were sprinkled with words associated with the elderly.

The words sprinkled in did NOT contain any explicit words like “old” or “elderly.” Instead, they were things like: Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, wrinkle.

When each group was done, they were asked to go down the hall to participate in a second experiment. In truth, the whole point of the experiment was found in that hallway.

What did the researchers discover?

  • The group that had the elderly related words walked down the hallway “significantly more slowly” than the other group.
  • This test group was subconsciously conditioned (primed!) to increase their awareness of the state of being elderly. Unknown to them, they were sort of identifying with this topic.
  • None of the participants were even aware of the elderly related words or of their slower walk. Instead, they insisted the earlier word puzzle had no effect on their subsequent behavior.

This is very common with these hidden influencers–you insist you are not influenced by them. This is one reason they are such a problem for us…they pull us off course while we insist that they haven’t.

Were the results of the above experiment a fluke? Read on.

 

“Not to decide is to decide.” -Harvey Cox

 

More Revealing Results from a Second Research Study

In another experiment with two different groups of study participants, one group was unknowingly primed with rude words and concepts while the other group was primed with politeness-type stimuli. They then recorded how participants in each group interacted with a neutral party on an unrelated topic.

You don’t need me to tell you how this turned out.

Researchers found that the individuals who had been primed with rude stimuli interrupted the experimenter and their peers three times more frequently than the participants who had been primed with polite stimuli.

 

This unseen influence can impact your behavior positively or negatively by a magnitude of 3X.

 

Hmmm… another coincidence?

Keep reading.

7 Decisions You Can Make Today to Be More Successful

7 Decisions
This is a guest post by Janet Miller. Janet is a mom of four, former Fortune 500 executive and executive coach. She is the cofounder of Jen Reviews and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, and Tiny Buddha.

How to Be Happier and More Successful

Og Mandino once said, “In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure. Thus, the first law I will obey, which precedeth all the others is – I will form good habits and become their slave.”

 

“Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure.” -Og Mandino

 

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit…or to break one. While the end result may not happen in the blink of an eye, these seven things we will go over today will definitely get you on your way. In the meantime, the happiness you will attain in realizing you are on your way to solidifying good practices will lead to your overall success. So, yes, you will realize a difference on the very first day, today, if you wish.

 

To most, this would seem like one of the least likely cases for long-term happiness and success, as it might leave you open to being let down. Quite the contrary. In assuming someone’s good intentions, you are allowing yourself to see things from their perspective, which in turn brings out the ability in you to be a good listener. You begin to see that their point has some valid root in something that they themselves find important, and you want to know what that is. It takes away the defensive attitude that we sometimes get when people come up with ideas that are not our own and also curbs our innate subconscious desire for self-righteousness.

Leadership Tip: Always start by believing in someone’s good intent.

 

2. Write down your goals every day.

Write down your goals every day. Studies show that writing down daily goals significantly improves the accomplishment of those goals. A good idea can also be a fleeting one, and it pays to jot every one of them down and then to arrange them in such a way that you can work from them towards a future arrival point, whether long-term or short-term. It can create and maintain vision, in which you can dream big, decide where you want to eventually be, and know the steps it will take to get there. It solidifies measurability, and creates something you can look back on as you begin to reach the finish line you have created.

“People with written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” – Brian Tracy

 

3. Realize that setbacks can ultimately lead to success.

While intelligence is most often a fixed-in-place factor in our lives, resilience is not. It allows us to cope with and eventually overcome adversity, which is something that can be acted on and improved. As we strengthen our resilience, we are able to recover faster from setbacks, and that makes us a little more open to taking chances that might grant us the possibility of even more success. When failure happens, there are a couple ways to deal with it, and they make a world of difference. One way is to place blame on someone or something else or to feel so badly about it that you learn nothing. This gives no room for moving forward. On the other hand, acknowledgement makes way for setting emotion aside and analyzing the failure in such a way as to move on from it and, eventually, overcome it.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” –Truman Capote

 

All kinds of negativity can come from comparing yourself to others. Whether you are looking at success, body image, accomplishments, financial gain or social status, all of this can ultimately result in jealousy and feelings of inferiority. It can even lead to anxiety and depression if allowed to be a constant in life. In no way does it help you achieve a single goal that you have placed for yourself and can actually cause you to stop making progress on your own goals. Instead, focus your energy – both physical and mental – on being the absolute best that you yourself can be.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Theodore Roosevelt

 

5. Avoid toxic people.

There are studies that have proven that stress can leave a negative impact on the brain that lasts and lasts. Even short-term exposure can leave lasting impressions on the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and memory. Long-term exposure can destroy neurons completely, which is irreversible. To think that stress is not an enemy of happiness and success is to completely ignore the reality of this situation. Being able to manage one’s emotion and reaction to outside stressors has a direct relevance in our lives, and to avoid as much of that as possible from those stressors is of the utmost importance.

Study: Stress has a negative impact on the brain.

New Leaders – Decide, Empower and Take Action

Team of five colleagues meeting for discussion
This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges—A Review

Since this is the second post about tips for new leaders, let’s review the challenges. Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion, the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

 

“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In a previous post, I discussed techniques for gathering good information, building relationships and communicating.

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Decision, Delegation and Empowerment

Action and Accountability

From a foundation of reliable information, relationships at all levels and open communication, here are some tips to establish a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

First Impressions—A Reminder

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on these characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

Here are some tips on how to set the tone for decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

Decisions, Delegation and Empowerment

The job of a leader is to make decisions happen—not necessarily make all the decisions, but to ensure they happen. In fact, it is better for the strength of the organization if the leader does NOT make most of the decisions. When others are involved, empowered and delegated the task of making decisions, everyone learns, people are more engaged and the organization begins to have a culture of deciding instead of just identifying problems to discuss endlessly.

One of the best times to establish a decision culture is when you are a new leader. First, you certainly do not know all the answers, and you need input from others. Second, people will be open to helping you. Here are some tips:

  • Look for Small Things: In various interactions within the organization, be alert for small items that are frustrations, inefficiencies or items holding people back. Ask “Who needs to be involved in changing the item?” Then delegate and empower the two or three people named to make the decision and take action. If the people involved cannot agree, then they can come back for guidance, but if they do agree, then it is done. Many times, there are small decisions that do not need senior management involvement. After all, those involved know more about it anyway. Delegating small decisions will set the tone for the organization, encourage others to decide and help establish an empowerment culture. Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.

 

“Delegating small things creates a decision and empowerment culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

  • Take Immediate Action on the Obvious: When you are the new leader, after many discussions you will find that there are some very well-known and recurring issues that have been around a long time. Many times everyone agrees about what needs to be done—so do it! If possible, delegate the responsibility. If delegation is not appropriate, then gather input from many, test your decision with them and decide. These items can be large or small, but deciding quickly will establish your style and send a message to the organization that decisions are encouraged.