Article (March-2019)


Challenge is to build excitement around high performance

Smita Singh

Designation : -   Head - Corporate HR

Organization : -  Continental Engines Private Limited, Gurgaon


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Do you think that developing and maintaining a  high performance culture is practically possible and easy in organisations or it is merely a buzzword far away from reality and difficult to achieve?

SS Developing and maintaining a high performance culture has become a prerequisite for organizations today to stay relevant and sustain themselves. It is a transformation journey for most organizations and hence a very difficult feat to achieve. The organizations, that will continue to thrive in this complex and dynamic business environment, will be the ones that are able to successfully create and foster a high performance culture.

What should be the key initiatives for creating high performance culture in your view and how do you define them?

SS Creating a high performance culture is a complex and difficult task and cuts across all functions/aspects of the organization. There are certain critical pre-requisites for creating a high performance culture :

i. Clear organizational vision, values and goals : Research studies across the world have shown that high performing organizations are ones where its people are clear about the critical goals that the organization is aiming to achieve and are able to see a clear alignment between their goals and the overall business level goals. This understanding and appreciation of the "big picture" creates a buy in and commitment among the workforce that translates to better outcomes.

ii. Leadership, Accountability and Empowerment : Any cultural change is always top down and hence, it is imperative that the leaders show the way through personal example Accountability must be clearly defined and people must be empowered to make decisions.

iii. Innovation and Change Management : The organization must create a workforce that anticipates and eagerly waits for change. Constantly questioning status quo and continuous learning are the hallmark of a learning organization.

iv Collaborative Work Environment : As the saying goes, whole is greater than sum total of its parts. An organization that works collaboratively together as one team irrespective of individual calibre of the team members will far outperform a set of high performing individuals who do not come together as a team. Cohesiveness and common team spirit are the key success factor for superlative performance of any organizations.

The pertinent question that now arises is how to ensure that these success factors take root in our organizations. This can be achieved only if we appreciate, acknowledge, reinforce and reward such behaviours in our people through mechanisms of inducting result driven talent and performance management, reward and people capability building interventions. It is also imperative that the organization puts in place systems to constantly track and measure how well the culture is taking root within the organization.

In this complex process, what challenges and issues do you expect HR should be ready to address?

SS Building a high performance culture is a very complex and challenging task as this entails bringing about a mindset change which is never easy in even the most evolved organizations. The key issues that HR may face in such a scenario are :

i. Building and communicating a shared vision and breaking silos : In most organizations, people work on individual goals and targets and there is lack of understanding and acceptance of common goals. Even when such understanding exists, people tend to prioritise individual goals over team or organizational goals. It is the role of HR along with senior management team to encourage and instil such behaviours through personal example and acknowledging, celebrating and rewarding people who prioritise organizational goals over their own.

ii. Instilling "can do" attitude among the workforce : In most established organizations, people get accustomed to delivering at a certain pace and raising the bar for delivery creates stress and unrest in the workforce. This may result in far lower performance than usual if not managed well. The challenge for HR is to build excitement around high performance by positively motivating the workforce and showcasing the returns for both the organization and its people when such superlative performance is delivered.

iii. Creating acceptance of change : Humans in general, feel comfortable in a certain and known environment. Fear of the unknown plagues majority of the workforce. However, in the complex business world of today, change is the only constant and only the organizations that are able to manage change well will continue to sustain and thrive. In such a scenario the organization needs to build excitement around change in its people. People should be encouraged to think out-of-the-box and constantly explore ways to come up with newer and better products and workways. Each process and system in the organization should be aligned to encourage such behaviour and most importantly HR and the leadership team must guarantee psychological safety so that people can try new things and workways without fear of consequences in case of failure.

Does high performance mean high pressure and more stress on employees? How do you propose to handle this side effect?
SS In most setups where the workforce has been accustomed to set way of working, the challenge of delivering far higher level of performance indeed causes stress. It creates an environment of uncertainty and fear among the workforce and instead of bolstering, ends up supressing the moral of employees. The trick to navigate such a delicate situation is to build and communicate a "big picture"goal for the organization that creates excitement among the workforce. Individual and team deliverables should be then derived from this org level goal. This would create a sense of collective ownership and higher level of acceptance.

Another critical success factors is to provide benefits and support to the employees that enables them to focus on core delivery instead of being distracted for mundane activities whether in professional or personal lives. For example, if an employee needs to travel extensively in order to deliver outcomes expected from him, the travel entitlements should be generous to cater to his/her personal comforts. Also, there should be mechanisms to support his family in case of exigencies while he is away.

Only when an employee is motivated positively and feels that the organization believes in his/her capability and is supportive, will he/she wholeheartedly contribute to the success of the organization.

Having a high performing culture is a matter of direct influence from the top? In such absence, what strategies should HR adopt to keep employees' morale high to maintain high performing culture?

SS It is a truth universally accepted that, cultures are created, shaped and nurtured by leaders in everyorganization and culture cascade is always top down. As such, it is the leaders in the organization who own the responsibility of embedding high performance in the DNA of the organization. The most impactful way that they can do so is by demonstrating tremendous hunger for success and outcome orientation themselves. They have to be the role model for others with a compelling and challenging vision for the organization that excites and motivates the whole organization.

However, in the absence of such leaders, HR has to step in and shoulder the responsibility of motivating and engaging the workforce. HR in collaboration with its key stakeholder must ensure :

That people are assigned meaningful roles that fir both their skill set and interest as far as possible.

No undue stress or pressure is created on them by their Managers. Research has showed that mild levels of stress stimulate productivity and positivity in people. However, very high level of stress has severe negative and destructive impact on people. HR has to ensure that there is positivity and enthusiasm in the organization and there is healthy relationship between Managers and subordinates.

Providing 'psychological safety' is another critical responsibility of HR. A high performance organization is one that constantly reinvents itself through innovation and being innovative entails taking risks. People feel confident in taking risks and thinking risks in an environment where there is no fear of failure in case an innovation or change fails.

Transparency and objectivity are the pillars that drive a high performance culture and these should be an integral part of an organization's workway.

Nothing motivates people as celebration and rewarding of success and hence HR should institutionalise processes that reward exemplary performances.

In organisations having diverse workforce and multi generational effect where technology is fast coming in to mainstream employee processes, what kind of obstacles and psychological blocks you foresee in creating high performing culture and their possible solution?

SS Technology is a great enabler in building a high performance culture. It is one of the most critical resource or tool that enables people to become more efficient and productive. However, technology can be a game changer only and only if its power is harnessed rightly. This in turn, is only possible if people know how to use it. Thankfully today's generation is highly tech savvy and is excited to learn and use cutting edge technology. HR has it easy with such a workforce, where they are only required to facilitate access to such technology and usage. The challenge largely lies with older workforce or semi literate workforce where technology is viewed with distrust. This distrust stems from largely two reasons :

1. It is looked upon as cutting down human interventions and hence jobs.

2. It's viewed as a highly complex skill that's very difficult to master.

In case, there is resistance to technology stem from the first, HR has to build confidence in people that there job is not impacted and this will just enable them to do things better by showing them live demonstrations of the same. Equally important is to provide them good training to help them overcome their fear of technology and use the new skill with ease. In situations, where introduction of technology is leading to job loss, HR must either identify other jobs and skill them accordingly. Else, create a strong outplacement program to facilitate their transition into a new organization.