12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

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

16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

What Great Teams Do Differently

Don Yaeger is an expert on what it takes to cultivate a champion mindset. He was associate editor of Sports Illustrated for over a decade; he has made guest appearances on every show from Oprah to Good Morning America, and he’s also authored more than two dozen books. Now a public speaker, he shares stories from the greatest winners of our generation.

So when his new book, Great Teams: 16 Things High Performing Organizations Do Differently, arrived on my desk, I couldn’t wait to read it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Don’s insight on high-performance is evident on every single page. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his research into what makes a team great.

 

“Great teams are connected to a greater purpose.” -Don Yaeger

 

Use Your Why to Motivate

Don, you’ve seen the inside of great teams in the sports and the business worlds. Your new book focuses on 16 characteristics of great teams. Let’s talk about a few of them.

 Your first point is that great teams understand their why. Purpose motivates both individuals and teams. How does the personal “why” interact with the team “why”? Do they ever conflict?

In the business world, a “why” is often misunderstood as a company mission statement or code of ethics—which couldn’t be further from the truth. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek has described a company’s corporate “why” as “always disconnected from the product, service, or the act you’re performing.” If an organization desires to become a Great Team in the business world, then it must understand how to utilize the “why” properly in order to galvanize support from its professional ranks. “When an organization lays out its cause, how it does so matters,” explained Sinek. “It’s not an argument to be made, but a context to be provided. An organization’s ‘why’ literally has to come first—before anything else.”

 

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” -Simon Sinek

 

 

Companies that understand the purpose and philosophy behind the “why” are usually astute, high-performing organizations that tap directly into the pulse of those they benefit the most. When utilized correctly, this understanding can create a powerful sense of duty and purpose for business teams because the employees know exactly whom they are working for and to what end.

 

“Great teams build a deep bench at all levels of the organization.” -Don Yaeger

 

Let Culture Shape Recruiting

You talk about letting culture shape recruiting. In a large company, how do you make this a reality so that every single hiring manager is thinking about culture and not just reviewing a resume?

Purpose and leadership are essential to building a team culture. Once an organization determines its “why” and aligns its leadership style with the needs of its members, it is on the right path to becoming a Great Team. But culture building doesn’t stop there. A team must also recruit the right talent. If done well, recruiting will result in a highly competitive team that is consistently motivated to seek and claim success.

Great Teams recruit players who fit—who will thrive within the established team culture and add value to it. The talent of the employee or teammate is important, but fit trumps all. These organizations understand that Great Team culture establishes an environment conducive to success, but that success ultimately depends on the right kind of personnel.

In today’s marketplace, it is very easy to be wowed by decorated resumes. When the “ideal” candidate—the one with the outstanding CV—arrives, many leaders incorrectly believe that including that person will automatically better the team. A Great Team, however, understands that fit is more important than credentials. Someone who might be perfect for one environment—or might have been great while working for a competitor—will not be a guaranteed fit for another. That’s something hiring managers should keep in mind as they build their teams.

 

“Great teams realize that fit is more important than credentials.” -Don Yaeger

 

Successful Huddles Are Crucial

What makes a successful huddle? 

Successful huddles are all about open and consistent communication. Under head coach Bill Walsh, the San Francisco 49ers placed such importance on the art of the meeting that he had specific rules and procedures regarding how each one should run. Walsh analyzed and even recorded meetings to spot potential lulls and weaknesses in their process. He wanted to make sure his assistant coaches—who would sometimes change from year to year—were teaching his team in a consistent fashion.

Quarterback Joe Montana, who came on board right after Walsh did, shared Walsh’s high opinion of meetings. This legendary team leader—who won four Super Bowl championships and is tied for the most titles among all quarterbacks—was known in and around the NFL as “Joe Cool.” He had an uncanny knack for seeing all aspects of the game from his position on the field and was seemingly unflappable in the most pressurized situations. And there was a reason for Montana’s demeanor: like Walsh, he believed in a very diligent, orderly meeting process as a means of keeping players engaged. For Montana, the huddle was a sacred place and the ultimate comfort zone. There were rules to be followed when Montana was giving out information for the next play. If those rules weren’t adhered to, Montana told his teammates to take the issue somewhere else. The huddle was a place where everyone needed to be engaged and headed in the same direction.

Great Teams in businesses can take a page from Walsh’s and Montana’s playbook and conduct orderly, disciplined meetings. Such order makes a bigger difference than many leaders want to admit. A successful meeting revolves around clear communication. It can be pivotal to achieving greatness because it explains precise strategy and opens the door to new ideas. An efficient meeting allows an organization to remain one step ahead of the competition and forces it to remain consistent with any existing strategies. But these ideas must be streamlined by a process and guided by a leader who can filter out the good ideas from the bad.

 

16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

  1. Great teams understand their why.
  2. Great teams have and develop great leaders.
  3. Great teams allow culture to shape recruiting.
  4. Great teams create and maintain depth.
  5. Great teams have a road map.
  6. Great teams promote camaraderie and a sense of collective direction.
  7. Great teams manage dysfunction, friction, and strong personalities.
  8. Great teams build a mentoring culture.
  9. Great teams adjust quickly to leadership transitions.
  10. Great teams adapt and embrace change.
  11. Great teams run successful huddles.
  12. Great teams improve through scouting.
  13. Great teams see value others miss.
  14. Great teams win in critical situations.
  15. Great teams speak a different language.
  16. Great teams avoid the pitfalls of success.

 

Would you share an example of where one team missed “value” and another team spotted it and capitalized on it? 

3 Forces of Intrinsic Motivation

3 Forces of Intrinsic Motivation

What motives you?

Daniel Pink’s work on motivation is likely the most well known, the most quoted, and the most discussed in management circles. We tend to think that we are either motivated by a fear of punishment or the excitement of a reward; the positive and the negative, the carrot and the stick. All of these forms are extrinsic, and they work only in certain situations. In fact, rewards can backfire in certain situations.

Instead, Pink concludes that we are more motivated by intrinsic motivation, the desire to do things because they matter. This completely upends the traditional thinking about motivating behavior. We have a desire to be part of something important, something larger.

 

Study: In 8 our of 9 tasks Dan Pink examined, higher incentives led to worse performance.”

 

Pink argues that we are motivated by other forces: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy. This is the need to self-direct.

Mastery. This is the intrinsic motivation to get better, to master a skill.

Purpose. This is the ability to connect to a larger cause. And, according to Pink, it’s the highest form of motivation.

These 3 forces are especially powerful in motivating the knowledge workers and the creatives.

How are you using the shifting nature of work and the research on intrinsic motivation in your organization? Are you changing the way you incentivize employees?

 

“Questions are often more effective than statements in moving others.” –Daniel Pink

 

“Especially for fostering creative, conceptual work, the best way to use money as a motivator is to take the issue of money off the table so people concentrate on the work.” –Daniel Pink

 

“One of the best predictors of ultimate success…how you explain your failures and rejections.” –Daniel Pink

 

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” –Daniel Pink

 

“Anytime you’re tempted to upsell someone else, stop what you’re doing and upserve instead.” –Daniel Pink

 

“The course of human history has always moved in the direction of greater freedom.”

 

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5 Phases of Simple Leadership

Simple Leadership

You may read the title of this post and think, “Leadership seems to be anything but simple!”

 

“The way to have a great future is to have a lot of great todays.” -Michael Nichols

 

My friend Dr. Michael Nichols developed a model for simple leadership that you may find particularly effective. Dr. Nichols is an executive coach who helps teams develop a vision and strategy to achieve their goals. The author of Creating Your Business Vision, he also helps individuals pursue intentional growth.

 

“Obstacles occur to help you determine if you really believe in the vision.” -Michael Nichols

 

His model for simple leadership:

  1. Purpose. What’s most important to me?
  2. Path. Where am I headed?
  3. Plan. What should I be doing?
  4. Prepare. How and when will I do it?
  5. People. Who will live and work with me?

One interesting fact I didn’t realize until this interview:

Over 70% of leaders say they have ZERO close friends.

Zero.

 

Over 70% of leaders say they have ZERO close friends.

 

That was particularly stunning and perhaps a wake-up call for some leaders as to what really matters.

Copyright Dr. Nichols. Used by Permission. Copyright Dr. Nichols. Used by Permission.

If you want to be more deliberate in your goals, strategy, and planning, study the simple leadership model.

 

“You can gain authority and position without connecting with others, but you won’t have many friends.” -Michael Nichols

Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders

Empowering Millennial Leaders 

On a trip in the Rockies, Jon Mertz experienced the wonders of aspen trees and walked away with a strong perception that the Millennial generation and these aspen trees shared many of the same qualities. He saw them both as “connection-rich, purpose-filled, and community-centered.”

Jon is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders and he blogs at Thin Difference. He recently shared some of his concepts and his research into the Millennial generation with me.

 

Survey: 6 in 10 Millennials want a sense of purpose at work.

 

Facts About Millennials

You write about Millennials. Share some facts on this generation.

In the United States, Millennials are the largest generation, standing tall at over 80 million, and they make-up over 30 percent of the workplace today. They are quickly becoming the majority. Millennials cannot be ignored and should not be stereotyped. After all, Millennials are the next generation of leaders. Period!

Some statistics that energize me about this next generation of leaders are:

  • 64 percent of Millennials say they regularly keep up with what is going on in the world.
  • 75 percent of Millennials claim businesses are more focused on personal agendas than helping society, and 6 in 10 want to feel a “sense of purpose” in working for their organization.
  • 87 percent believe business success should be measured in terms of more than just financial performance—elements to include are employee satisfaction and retention, customer satisfaction and retention, and contribution to local communities.

What Millennials have the opportunity to create is a new digital citizenship. The new digital citizenship has the potential to enhance trust, transparency, purpose, accountability, and sustainability within and across organizations. I know this sounds lofty, but I believe in what Millennials are bringing to politics, business, and charitable organizations.

 

“Clarity is the fuel to make collaboration work.” -Jon Mertz

 

Millennial Misconceptions

What’s are the biggest misconceptions about them?

The biggest misperception about Millennials is that they are an entitled generation. New influences were present through societal and technology changes, no different than previous generations. Intensity of change accelerates, though. What I have found is not a sense of entitlement but a sense of how can we make things better. Embedded in this is a strong sense of purpose and problem solving. These are the traits Millennials are using.

An example of this is the Food Recovery Network. Two college students volunteered at a nearby homeless shelter. Back on campus after lunch, they saw good food being thrown away. How can people a few miles away have little food and good food is being thrown away here? They set out to solve this problem by working with the university to deliver the food to nearby shelters. Today, this social good initiative is active in over 160 chapters and has recovered over 1 million pounds of food across the United States.

Millennials are not entitled, but they are blazing a trail of renewal in solving real problems with purpose-filled solutions.

 

Survey: 87 percent of Millennials believe business success is more than just financial performance.

 

Find the Right Tempo

Let’s talk about patience. You say it cultivates growth. There are other times that we need a high sense of urgency and drive. How do you know what is needed?

There is no stock answer to finding the right tempo between patience and impatience. What patience engages is a visual of pace and stride. Patience embodies doing the work, learning our craft and honing our skills. Being patient is not wasted time. It is as Steve Martin said, “Being so good they cannot ignore you.”

Copyright Jon Mertz, Used by Permission Copyright Jon Mertz, Used by Permission

On the order side is stride. To achieve bigger missions and purpose, we need to step up to start a company, change jobs, move on, or re-start. Getting this timing right takes the right alignment of heart and mind. More specifically: