High performance is a way of being, even more so than it is a place to be. It's about an organisation fulfilling its reason for being, making the difference it exists to make, and doing this with excellence. CEOs are at the helm, guiding their organisations on this journey to high performance. Three practices in particular make for smoother sailing, and these practices begin with the organisation's senior leaders. They are the practices of evidence-based leadership.
Leaders are responsible for the culture of an organisation, and the culture of high performance will come only when the leaders themselves practise, and not just preach, evidence-based management. What the CEO does, the rest of the organisation does. To achieve high performance, it must be these three practices:
- Direction is about articulating and communicating a measurable strategy
A clear direction is not about ‘business as usual’. It’s about strategy, and strategy is about change, about improvement, about working on the business and not in it. An organisation’s strategic direction describes the results that define the impact the organisation wants to have, and the results that drive that impact from within. A good strategic direction is where evidence-based leadership begins.
However, there are two mistakes leaders often make in setting direction. The first mistake is they write strategic goals that are action-oriented. The actions we take are a means to an end; they’re not goals. In high performance organisations, goals are results-oriented. The second mistake is that strategic goals are written in weasel words. Goals must be understood before people can buy in to them. Weasel words must go, because they only create confusion and cynicism, never conviction.
- Evidence is about setting meaningful performance measures for each strategic goal
If we don't measure the results that matter most, then we have little evidence if what we're doing to achieve them is working or not. So unless we are measuring what matters, and measuring it well, we can be certain that we're delaying the achievement of our goals. We can be certain that what we are doing isn't the best thing to do. In high performance organisations, evidence is bedrock.
The only way we can know that a goal is happening is to observe it. We must be on constant lookout for evidence of our intended results. Quantifying this evidence gives us direct measures of those results. And by measuring results, we alleviate the biggest fear people have about performance measures: that they will be used to judge them. Measures are powerful only when they are tools in people’s hands, not rods for their backs.
- Execution is about getting the corporate strategy implemented and the strategic goals achieved
Execution in high performance organisations is getting the right things done. It needs focus to stay away from tangents and distractions and keep on the path set by the strategic direction. It needs discipline to maintain that focus and take each initiative to completion. It needs urgency, not just importance, to make sure the whirlwind of day-to-day operations doesn’t sabotage the change effort. And above all, execution needs leverage, to get the highest return possible from the investment of our limited time, effort and money.
High-ROI strategy execution uses the leverage of continuous improvement of business processes. It liberates latent performance capability constrained by the organisation’s policies, processes and politics. It isn’t about managing people’s performance. People are constrained by these things too. High-performance organisations hold people accountable for the behaviours of monitoring and improving what matters, not for hitting numerical targets.
When we inspire, encourage and expect evidence-based management from everyone, we are leading a high-performance organisation. We need to make it part of our everyday conversations and especially our own actions. Is that happening?