Article (April-2019)


Leadership in high performing organisations turn stress in to motivation

Arjun Singh

Designation : -   Vice President Human Resources

Organization : -  CEAT Tyres Limited, Mumbai


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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?

AS There is nothing in this world which comes easy. At the same time there is nothing in the world which is impossible. To provide an answer of the above question, it is important first for us to define what culture is and what high performance is in broad sense. Culture is cumulative effect of what people do, how they do and when they do whereas high performance is delivering beyond what looks obvious to deliver superior financial and operational results. Developing such culture and maintaining the culture is indeed possible but at the same time it needs sustained effort from everyone in the organisation to make it part of DNA of the organisation. This can only be done by setting clear directions, defining employees' responsibilities, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees to work together & continuously grow and reinvent themselves. For example Starbucks is seen as a real example of a high performing culture organisation, how does the organisation deliver excellence in spite of so many levels , so many locations, leads the market with a product which by no means is winning based on best value for money.

The high performance culture at Starbucks ensures that a nice cup of coffee alone is not enough. The location, the ambiance and the décor along with high level of service is responsible for the success of Starbucks.

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

AS High performance as a culture is very much visible when we walk across in an organization. You can feel the difference. Instead of just going through the routine, the employees are energized, talk positive about the organisation and are willing to deliver beyond what is expected. The ingredients to build and sustain high performing organisations are many and those must be identified, accepted and adopted by everyone in the organisation across levels and functions.

But how do organizations become high-performance organizations? This is because the measurement to define outcome is not easy and in many cases people don't even know what to measure. For example organisations and managers know how to measure operational and financial measures but many fail to accept and realise the fact that achievement of these are linked to other people measures and cross functional/team measures. There are many organisations which are great in one area or domain but collectively they may not be very successful across all these outcome areas and domains.

That makes it vital for organisations to focus on unknown part of people and teams for them to be a high performing organisation. Remember, there is no one size fit all solution for all, hence each organisation must use a wholistic approach to focus on financial, operational, people and organisational measures to effectively build a high performance culture organisation. Once we focus on the overall level, it is important for us to focus on the next set of attributes which are in the form of shared goals, right mix of people, team size, roles and responsibilities etc.

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

AS The unique combination of measures and attributes either in isolation, combination or in totality makes it really tough for an organisation to attain this state at the first place and even after attaining the state there is always a tendency to go back to the previous state making it really difficult to sustain it. This is the single reason why we see such challenges as any variability in the measures and attributes can actually impact the overall performance culture in the organisation. For example, if we do not have the right mix of people or the team size or the requisite organisation structure and roles, it will be next to impossible for us to create a high-performance culture. The HR teams play a very vital role here by ensuring that the organisation structure is well defined which allows every level to feel empowered, the PMS process is well implemented which creates an environment of trust and collaboration by providing clarity on goals across the organisation. HR also plays an important role by investing in the leadership and managerial capability at all levels in the company to ensure leadership oversight and direction to deal with ambiguity as well as develop a customer centric strategy which can play a role by increasing the communication and collaboration across different groups and teams.

Does high performance mean high pressure and more stress on employees? How do you propose to handle this side effect?

AS Even in an organisation with clearly defined performance expectations with a positive culture of success, it could still be said that the pace of modern business naturally creates a high-pressure environment. This sense of pressure is typically magnified if leadership demand is unexpected or there is another unforeseen impact on workloads. It is sometimes inevitable and hence the challenge is to manage this pressure to ensure it remains a motivator and not a cause of stress.

The employees can try and be patient in these situations, spend time in understanding the macro economic environment, factors that causes stress internally and develop mechanism to deal with them effectively. A great strategy to evaluate better utilisation resources so that the pressure/spikes can be managed effectively may also work. The focus of leaders must be the return to a high-performance - not high-pressure - environment, to ensure stress levels do not taint the culture that everyone has worked so hard to develop a great team and organisation in the past.

What is important is how the leadership and organisation actually reward positive behaviours and maintain morale in a high-pressure situation and ensure that communication channels are used effectively to reach out optimally with positive message to everyone so that high performing culture becomes sustainable.

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?

AS The leadership team plays a big role in creating and sustaining a high performance culture and the absence of the leadership focus there is a tendency to go back to the previous state. In the absence of strong leadership, the HR teams play a very critical role being an employee champion by ensuring that everyone across the organisation are well communicated, aligned with the macro and micro environment and goals are shared across the organisation. Many a times it has been seen that if the employees are well communicated and are aware, they tend to feel more empowered to take action and take ownership of their action to deliver positive results and experiences for the origination. A strong PMS focus ensures that the teams are motivated to work towards the common goal as they see visible action on creating a performance based culture across teams. The HR team shall also ensure enough focus on developing capability of the team which helps them gain mastery in what they do as well as help them achieve organisations objectives. The communication channels are so strong that everyone understands the purpose of the organisation and how employees are motivated to achieve the purpose of the organisation.

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?

AS The diversity is of different kinds - of which one is also cultural diversity which means each individual is wired differently and the way they look at things and act are very different from each other and accordingly they need to be dealt with differently. The biggest challenges in creating a high performance culture is dealing with their strong personalities as they tend to sway the culture with what they see as their own successful behaviour and their obsession that others should also act behave in the same way. Many a times low performers give up easily as they start thinking that what is in it for them and hence helping lower performers to keep up the spirit is a good way to keep the focus on culture. Organisation is about teams and not so much about individuals and hence for a successful story it is important that the employees act as a team and not individuals. What also helps is being a step ahead from the day to day and keep a watch on shared values and alignment specially in the current context where the tendency to drift from the main pillars are very high. In addition the cultural pillars need to be defined properly and same needs to be ingrained in the systems and processes and important for leaders to walk the talk.