Polar bears and penguins

What catapults organisations to be ahead of the competition? Susan Stevenson, a presenter at the CMAE’s European Conference and co-author of Polar Bears and Penguins examines the guiding principles for a high performance culture.

Lots of factors affect the condition of your club/organisation, some within your control, like the culture, and some out of your control like shifts in the market.

The common denominator playing a key role in performance is the culture, defined as ‘the ways things get done, that have been developed over time’.

So, understanding the impact culture has on creating and sustaining high performance, how can leaders make this happen? First of all, it is more important to know who you are as a club than where you are going, for where you are going will change as the world around you changes. Leaders change, markets change, new technologies emerge, but core ideology in a high performing company endures as a source of guidance, inspiration and sustainability.

A recent study done by the Gallup organisation in 160 countries, however, identified that only 37% of employees know what their organisation stands for. What percentage of your employees would know what your club stands for?

Further research identified that 70% of the variance between lousy, good and great cultures, is the knowledge, skill and talent of its leaders. Not the employees, but the team leader. The conclusion is that organisations should change from having command and controlling managers to high performance coaches who engage and enroll.

High performance coaches/team leaders share the organisation’s purpose. They develop fully transparent and authentic relationships, establish clear expectations and provide ongoing feedback aligned to the purpose, values and expectations. They also hold colleagues accountable and give recognition and fair reward.

Some leaders try to assert their authority in a topdown fashion, forcing their employees to follow along or face punitive actions. Others go to the opposite extreme, trying to befriend their employees rather than providing the leadership and vision they need. As a leader, you must strike a delicate balance between these two extremes. The following four Guiding Principles will help you strike that balance, while ensuring the ship stays steady in all weather conditions.

1. Be committed
To engage and enroll a group of people, you must be fully committed to them, the purpose of your club and to the goals you want to achieve. Are they confident that you care and that you are not going to begone tomorrow and the focus gone too? Can they trust your commitment to them and what you are asking them to do?

You must exercise your choices in the best interest of the club and those who work there, whatever that involves. When your employees see how truly committed you are AND that all employees can perform and contribute to their full potential, almost all will respond in kind.

2. Be fully present with ‘what is’
Leaders must be fully present with what is going on at the moment. Do you get into the midst of the employees, pay attention, observe and be genuinely curious? Do you ask questions without expectations of the response; give employees your full attention when you are interacting with them; acknowledge their responses without judgment or defending; and genuinely care about understanding them? High performing cultures create an openness to addressing the good, the bad and the ugly – no matter how ugly it is! – with the positive intention of making the culture fully transparent and the very best it can be. This includes letting go of the behaviours and processes that no longer serve your club’s goals.

3. Engage in deep dialogue
Deep dialogue requires focus and vulnerability. You cannot ask powerful questions without opening yourself up to honest answers. This requires that you, as a leader, be absolutely secure in who you are and in your own commitment to what is best for the club. Deep dialogue can be uncomfortable for some people, but in high performing cultures, people are actually comfortable with being uncomfortable once in a while. This is realistic when you as a leader are demonstrating commitment and cultivating similar commitment within your employees.

4. Look for answers within
As their leader, you have to be willing to let employees know that you don’t know all of the answers and are open to feedback, suggestions and ideas. High performing cultures always look for the answers to their challenges from within the organisation first. Employees are consulted on answers to everyday problems, while embracing the differences of opinions.

High performing leaders are not constantly searching for the mythological ‘perfect employee’ who will be able to perform well despite a dysfunctional organisational culture. You must be devoted to transforming the culture so that you get the most out of everyone you already have. None of this is to say that a high performing organisation will never have to fire anyone. However, when you do, it is because the individual has failed the organisation,not the other way around.

If you are motivated to make your club everything it can be – to build something that will retain loyal employees, exceed customer expectations and weather any storm that comes around – these guiding principles are irreplaceable. They take time and effort to incorporate into your leadership style, but they will deliver dividends that will be more than worth the investment.

Article published in Clubhouse Europe issue 13