The world is replete with organizations with great strategies. But how many of those great strategies are actually executed? Less than 15%. That’s the number that John Spence shared with me when we spoke recently. John is the author Awesomely Simple, and an executive trainer and coach who has worked as a trusted advisor with numerous Fortune 500 companies over the last 20 years. When we spoke, we discussed what he’s noticed about organizations that are very successful at building and sustaining high performance teams that effectively execute strategies. Following are the highlights from our discussion. (If you’d like to watch the video of the interview, click here.)
John’s advice is to focus on creating and sustaining a winning workplace culture. If we get the culture right, we can create the conditions for excellent execution. My discussion with John revealed 6 powerful, easily-actionable ideas for creating and sustaining a culture of high performance.
1. People need to feel safe in the workplace.
Of course, people need to know that they’re physically safe. But they also need to know that they are emotionally and psychologically safe. A winning culture must include an environment where people know that they will not be attacked emotionally, and they need to know that they can openly and safely share ideas.
2. People need to feel that they belong to something that matters.
As humans, we naturally seek out something bigger than ourselves to belong to. We can help fulfill this deep, human need by creating a workplace where people are inspired by the work we do, and can see how their work is tied to the big picture. Knowing how important this sense of belongingness is, when taking on new team members, we should also pay close attention to whether or not a person would be a good fit for our culture. If a person doesn’t feel that they fit in, they could quickly become disengaged.
3. People need to be appreciated frequently and authentically.
People need to be appreciated for the tasks they accomplish, for their ability to display emotional mastery, and for their ideas. Leaders of the most successful teams create a culture of catching people doing well in all three of these areas and they make it a point to offer some type of specific, genuine praise at least once every 7-10 days, like, “John, I really appreciate the way you handled the situation yesterday with the ABC client. It would have been easy to get frustrated, but you stayed cool and positive.
I’m glad you’re on the team.” We can take the power of appreciation to the next level by making sure that we have a conversation at some point with each team member to find out how they like to receive appreciation. One person may like public recognition. Another may prefer a simple written thank you. John Spence told me about an assistant he worked with at a company he ran who valued family above everything else. So, when John wanted to show deep appreciation, he wrote a letter to her family telling them how great their mom/wife is.
4. Appreciation needs to be combined with accountability.
Talented people don’t want to be on a mediocre team. Appreciation is vital for creating a culture of excellence, but so is accountability. Every member on a team needs to have clear expectations set forth and know who is accountable for what. Winning teams create a sense of mutual accountability, and have systems in place to regularly measure progress towards goals and determine what the team can do to ensure goals are met.
5. Goals need to binary.
Ambiguity will result in mediocrity. High performing teams set very specific, binary goals. A binary goal is either achieved, or it isn’t. There is no ambiguity or subjectivity. In addition to making expectations more clear, binary goals also reduce personal conflicts. Instead of having conversations like, “I don’t think you did as well on this as you could have,” which is open for debate, the conversation is simply, “Sales were not improved by the goal of 5% this quarter. What do we need to do to hit the goal next time?”
6. Create more “A” players.
All employees need to be coached and mentored. But is there one group of employees that should receive a little more attention? According to John Spence, there certainly is. It shouldn’t be the As. The best thing we can do with As is to make sure they have what they need and then get out of their way. It shouldn’t be the Cs (or Ds if you have any).
It is unlikely that they will ever become an A player. If you’re going to focus a little more energy on any group, it should be your B players – the employees that are close to being top performers, but just aren’t quite there yet. By focusing a little extra energy on moving the B players to the A level, along with the other 5 tools we discussed, we can make significant progress toward creating a high performance team that effectively executes our winning strategies.