3 Traits Leaders Need to Shape a High-Performance Culture

Time to Re-Invent

Some businesses focus on creating a culture of fun, so leaders fill break rooms with kegs and fruit snacks. Others pinpoint that they want a culture of transparency, so developers create open forums for inner office dialogue and feedback.

These can be good tactics to employ when working to create a company culture.

But if your culture is tactical and not strategic, these types of approaches ultimately won’t have a large impact on a more important issue — how your company performs.

Creating a High-Performance Culture

A high-performance culture creates a high-performance business.

And to do this, you need leaders who can embed this into company processes.

To create and maintain a high-performance culture, it’s crucial for leaders to be aware of their own beliefs and assumptions about how work should get done. They also need to be aware of how those beliefs influence and reinforce behavior within a company.

Leaders who are better able to reinforce behaviors that drive business strategy are better able to achieve their goals in the near – and long-term. If they are inflexible in their beliefs despite shifting strategy, the result will be a culture that elicits and reinforces unproductive behaviors from the team.

Leaders who are most effective at driving the kind of behavior that supports strategy generally share a few commonalities.

Three Traits Leaders Need to Develop

The following are three traits that all leaders need to master to improve the performance of their organizations.

Insight into the Company’s Past, Present, and Future

Leaders driving high-performance cultures crave data. They want to understand the underlying beliefs and assumptions that exist in the fabric of their organization and how they drive value-added behaviors.

Conversely, they need to understand how those beliefs drive intended or unintended outcomes in terms of business performance.

Behaviors that once helped the organization succeed may no longer be effective in getting the company from where it is to where it needs to be in the current competitive landscape.

Emphasis on Inclusion

Successful leaders don’t try to shoulder responsibility for culture all on their own; they recognize that employees play an important role in how culture evolves. Leaders must look for every opportunity to engage employees in meaningful ways and make sure that all employees feel they own the culture and its evolution.

Aptitude for Embedding Culture

Leaders should view culture as the framework for everything that happens or fails to happen in their organization. Culture can’t be perceived as an “add-on,” distinct from the rest of the business.

Rather, leaders should include culture conversations into all existing meetings and practices.

Leaders who do this can proactively shape things like recruiting processes, compensation plans, talent management efforts, and employee development to evolve and align more closely to the core business strategy.

Developing These Traits

It’s unrealistic to think that all leaders or employees will naturally embody and use every business-savvy trait from the get-go, but luckily, these characteristics can be developed over time.

Here are a few ways leaders can develop these traits in themselves and their team:

  • Integrate the culture process into business processes — from strategic planning to meetings and gatherings. Every aspect of business should be a part of evolving the company culture toward an identified goal.
  • Work diligently to engage employees in the process of defining the company’s culture and actively moving it in a specific or new direction. People at every level of your organization should understand how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • Develop personal relationships with your team to make sure clear communication and to build a stronger culture. Don’t rely on technology (i.e., email) as the primary source of communication. Master the art of engaging your team in a meaningful way.
  • Determine what skills and strengths you already have as a leader and how to use them to motivate your team in ways that align with your business. Don’t try to be something that you’re not; it only erodes trust.
  • Collaborate with a company culture expert who can help you better understand your culture and how it evolves — or could evolve — over time. He or she will work with you to decide how you can use your culture as a competitive differentiator.
  • Allow your company’s culture to influence your role as a leader as much as you influence your company’s culture. See success as validation for good decisions and practices, and recognize failure as a need to reevaluate choices or actions.

Your Competitive Edge

Developing a high-performance company culture is an important part of creating a competitive edge. Leaders must have an understanding of the characteristics necessary for shaping and evolving their company’s culture, as well as how to use these traits in a real-world way.

Leaders who are curious, who make sure employees “own” the company culture, and who embed culture in day-to-day processes will drive business performance that helps meet strategic goals.

So how are you doing at creating a high-performance culture at your organization? Are you recognizing areas in which you can improve your culture to be more productive? And what successes have you had in the past that point to real increases to your bottom line?  I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Chris Cancialosi, Ph.D.
Chris Cancialosi is founder and managing partner at gothamCulture
He helps provide Critical Insights to Leaders who want to Drive Performance
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L2L Contributing Author


    • Chris Cancialosi on October 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      I appreciate you passing this along.

  1. Maurik on October 9, 2013 at 4:10 am

    We recognize your analysis while introducing our tools and on-boarding programs at organizations to engage people in p2p continuous 360 feedback and to engage them in strategic decisionmaking. We observe there’s a dilemma.

    – new tools and approaches need to be embedded in an employee’s daily work life
    – inclusion is critical
    – yet : adoption rates are not matters of a split second

    The Innovation Adoption curve still reminds us of a large number of people not embracing anything, even if it’s embedded.

    Leaders should therefor comprehend their employees’ adoption dynamics and provide people with embedded innovations, enable and underline inclusion, yet do not punish or assess people only for their speed of adoption. A great leader understands that it takes social dynamics and interrelationships at work to build up uptake and increased usage, and prevent themselves from trying to ‘manage’ adoption at a speed that just is no fit with a majority of people.

    Thanks for posting your work Chris!

  2. Chris Cancialosi on October 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks for your feedback Maurik! I agree that people should not be penalized for being late adopters of new ideas. It takes some of the skeptics a bit longer sometimes to see that 1) the new behaviors will be accepted and rewarded by leadership and that 2) the new behaviors and “ways of working” will actually yield improved results.

  3. Lee Ellis on October 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Lee Ellis on Leading with Honor and commented:
    As a leader, would you like to create or work in a successful, high-performance culture? Here are 3 Traits Leaders Need to Shape a High-Performance Culture. One trait that article mentions is the need to crave data to explain the underlying beliefs and assumptions of the internal team, clients, and customers (If it’s working, why? If it’s not working, why not?).

    Check out the article, and share your thoughts –

  4. Amelia Dodgson on February 25, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Wonderful article! The “Emphasis on Inclusion” point strikes a chord with me, because as an HR professional, I’ve seen that the best leaders who are adept at performance management inspire through motivation. They fire up every member of their team so that they intrinsically want to see themselves, their team members, and their company be successful. Leadership training helps leaders to develop these motivational skills. align4profit.com

  5. ramakrishnan6002 on April 4, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.