This article was written by Cameron Schwab for designCEO and was originally published 19 March, 2019.
Most conversations I have with leaders focus on a desired outcome; something they would like to achieve.
They then work back on from the desired outcome and give thought to the processes they hope will achieve their objective. They then try and align complex and multilayered structures, systems, people and resources to this goal.
“We want to be a high performing team,” the leaders say, and we commence discussions as to the reasons why this goal is important, usually as it relates to an ambitious growth strategy.
The conversation then focuses on the need to match high-performance ambitions with a high-performance culture, articulated in the form of agreed values that are then distributed, painted on walls, added to websites, screensavers and mousepads.
By definition, this conversation isn’t about a high-performance culture, it is about our high-performance culture, and this is where it gets complicated.
It will require change.
There is a saying that goes something like…”If nothing changes, nothing is going to change”
Again by definition, a high-performance culture requires high-performance behaviours. If those behaviours currently existed, we would not be having the conversation.
Often the conversation defaults to the potential actions that may create the desired outcomes. This is fraught, and merely gives the impression of progress, as behind every system of actions, are a system of beliefs far more powerful.
To create the high-performance culture, our leaders, teams and organisations first need to shift the way they think about themselves.
Simply, their ‘old’ identity can sabotage their ambitions, and their processes for change.
At the heart of this, is the development and establishment of high-performance habits to establish high-performance behaviours. These will create the ‘small wins’ and importantly provide evidence of a ‘new’ identity, one that models behavioural and cultural expectations. At the same time, the small improvements will compound over time to make the difference the leaders seek.
My favourite leadership quote of the moment is:
“Your words tell others what you think. Your actions tell them what you believe.”
It starts with simple statements around identity such as…
“I am a leader who….”
“We are a team that…”
“We are an organisation which…”
Then these statements are matched by actions. Leadership is not what we say, it’s what we do.
The 2×2 matrix shown in the drawing above focuses on this process. Let us define the quadrants:
- No process and no change of identity is merely an articulation of ‘what’ we would like to achieve, but provides no means by which it can occur. It is a want, a dream, and nothing else. Sadly, many organisations struggle to break free from this quadrant as they remain fully outcome focused.
- Process without any change to identity gives us an important ‘how’, but nothing else. It risks incongruency in relation to expectations, the development of a culture that will not achieve the desired outcomes and high-potential for unhealthy and debilitating conflict between leaders and layers within the organisation (eg Board, CEO and Senior Management Team).
- A change to identity, but with no processes to support will provide an important sense of ‘why’, and possibly good alignment and intent, but is also unlikely to succeed. It will not provide the small wins necessary to gain momentum for change. Runs the risk of being all talk, no action.
- A strong shift in identity matched by aligned processes, built around high-performance habits, is the belief focused approach that will embed the behaviours to create the desired culture. A culture unique to the organisation, the one it requires to achieve the outcomes it is seeking.
The work we do at designCEO focuses on the habits to build and entrench the processes and identity to create a system of beliefs.
It is built around four high-performance habits that are coached and embedded, utilising sophisticated coaching and teaching methods heavily influenced by my personal experience in elite sport.
They focus on self-responsibility and accountability for the behaviours to achieve desired performance outcomes.
And it starts with the small wins.