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Misconceptions About Creating a High-Performance Culture

November 2, 2018

In this month’s post, I want to address a couple of misconceptions about high performing teams, which seem to be a somewhat typical line of thinking in the Human Resources world. Now, to be clear, I’m not knocking HR folks -they have been some of my most valuable partners in my past roles. But most HR folks have never had the responsibility of transforming large metrics and productivity oriented operations into high performing teams, so their views on this subject usually reveal a lack of any first-hand experience, as in this article, about Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix:

 https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/book-blog/pages/creating-a-high-performing-culture-is-about-removing-burdens-not-adding-incentives.aspx

First, I think that McCord is right about several things: the need to remove burdens by “creating a climate where employees are freed from the burden of excessive processes so they can focus on excelling at their work” and “moving away from command-and-control management structures in which employees are told what to do instead of being encouraged to solve problems on their own.” I also believe that unconventional approaches are necessary to have success in transforming operations. McCord also has a refreshing perspective on the annual budgeting process that is unusually rational for a senior leader.

However, I disagree with McCord that employees are naturally empowered. This may be the culture at Netflix but I have never seen this in my career and doubt that it is true across most companies. Instead, most employees must be given permission to think and act independently and to innovate by the senior leadership. More importantly, this permission needs to be constantly reinforced by senior leaders and especially when employees’ ideas don’t work so well. High performing teams need the ability – encouragement, really – to keep trying things they think will improve performance regardless of how many things don’t work. Mistakes and failures are healthy as long as they are used for incremental learning.

McCord and I also differ on the subject of incentives. She believes they don’t work; I know the right ones do work. While I agree that employees “don’t need incentives to do their jobs,” they need a reason to do more than the minimum required which is an essential characteristic of high performing teams – they make going above and beyond the minimum expectations a part of their daily routines.

Employees aren’t dumb (unless your hiring is misfiring) and they understand that   – as McCord herself says – “their job is secure only for as long as their skill set aligns with the company’s needs.” In the current reality of near zero corporate loyalty I believe the right incentives help you retain the people you want to keep.

MIG & Associates has engineered many successful – and sustainable – transformations to high performing operations.  If you need help doing it right contact us and let’s talk.

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