The Essentials of a High-Performing Organization

April 5, 2011

Do you conduct employee satisfaction surveys? Employee satisfaction is important, but it is just one building block towards becoming a high-performing organization. Being a satisfied employee is a component to being an engaged employee, which leads to greater individual performance.

The performance of engaged employees is superior because engaged employees take full responsibility for their work and go the extra mile. They are motivated and willing to apply discretionary effort towards achieving organizational success.

There isn’t, however, a single driver of engagement. People place premiums on different things, but consider how important some of these drivers of engagement are to a high-performing organization:
  • A bold vision of the future
  • Recognition of achievement
  • Being a part of a great team
  • Having control over your work
  • The opportunity to grow and improve
Engagement in a high-performing organization includes what Dan Pink describes as autonomy, mastery, and purpose; these three things alone go a long way towards building engagement. Truly valuing people and recognizing their efforts reinforces engagement by contributing to an employee’s overall satisfaction. Another aspect of valuing people is helping them develop and grow in their careers.

High-performing organizations need more than just engagement, however. Engagement provides the benefit of employee retention and the potential for accomplishing great things, provided that engaged energy is applied in the right direction. The greater the organizational understanding, agreement and alignment, the greater the business performance will be.

People need to understand what the organization stands for, what its objectives are, and the time frames are for achieving those objectives. This understanding is crucial: Professor Robert Kaplan of the Harvard Business School and David Norton at the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative determined that 90 percent of all corporate strategies are not executed successfully. An organization must be properly aligned to achieve those objectives so that it doesn’t wind up working against itself.

Organizational alignment doesn’t have to translate into rigid conformity. As Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse put it in their book, We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, “Alignment doesn’t mean that everyone is marching the same way, in the same uniform. It means everyone knows which hill to climb, and why they are climbing that hill. How they make the climb is up to them.”

How aligned is your organization? Here are some questions to ask, taken from The Power of Strategic Commitment.

To what degree do employees:
  1. Have a shared understanding and belief in the direction and objectives of the organization?
  2. Have a shared understanding and belief in the role of their function in meeting the objectives of the organization?
  3. Understand and believe in their personal role in helping to meet the objectives of the organization?
  4. Have a shared understanding and belief in how organizational success is measured?
Creating and supporting an environment of engagement and business performance is the role of management. Even in an Agile development shop that supports autonomous teams, there are needs of management to provide the engagement and organizational ingredients required for total success.


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