Creating a High-Performance Culture


My first job after college was as an engineer at an electric utility company. When I had been there a couple of years, I remember George, a crusty veteran supervisor, lamenting, “You know, Greg, we hire bright, hungry, capable people and within two short years they’re just as mediocre as everyone else around here!” Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind. First, I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity, I was going to do something about that. My second thought: “Wait a minute! Did George just take a swipe at me?”

Fast forward another decade to 2005 when a business partner and I started Kite Technology Group to help insurance agencies with their technology. I finally had my chance to create the kind of company culture I wanted. Below are seven insights I have discovered about creating a high performing team. Some were learned through the gracious advice of mentors. But too often, the lessons were learned the hard way, by paying the price for my mistakes. My hope is that some of these ideas will spare you the pain of learning the hard way.

Permit Failure

Until your team members have the freedom to fail, they don’t really have your trust. As long as they are looking over their shoulder waiting for you to swoop in and tell them how to solve a problem, they are not accountable for the results. You are. Give your employees the freedom to fail.

Keep Score

Have you ever watched kids playing pickup basketball? You can tell right away whether they are playing a game or just shooting around. The teamwork and intensity is heightened when the score is being kept. The same is true in your business. Every employee deserves to know whether they are winning or losing. If your employees don’t know what success looks like in their job, then you have work to do to create their personal scoreboard.

Feedback isn’t Just for Annual Reviews

People crave feedback. We ALL want to know how we are doing and that our contributions are noticed. Take the time to informally praise behavior at the time it occurs. I have found that employees are much more open to constructive criticism when we as leaders have taken the time to praise their efforts when they do a good job.

Separate Annual Reviews from Compensation Adjustments

There is no question that compensation needs to be linked to performance. The problem comes when the two are so tightly coupled that the review is the context for providing a raise. This creates a dynamic whereby the review becomes a negotiating tactic between employee and employer to justify the increase. This tension costs you any opportunity to have an honest conversation about deficiencies and employee development. I like to do all annual wage adjustments at the same time of year. It makes budgeting easier. On the other hand, I try to spread annual performance reviews throughout the year to better distribute the workload. Decoupling the review from the raise makes for better performance reviews AND for more timely wage adjustments.

Keep Your Employees Busy

Employees want to know that what they do matters. Nothing is more discouraging in the workplace than boredom. If employees do not have meaningful work to do, then they cannot help but feel unimportant. Of course, being busy for the sake of being busy isn’t the answer either. Take the time to make sure employees continually have meaningful work to do. Your agency will get the benefit of the productivity and the employee gets the message that they are necessary.

Employ the Power of Triads

Does this scenario sound familiar? Sally and John have a disagreement. They both come to you separately to state their case. Now you are in the middle and essentially own the problem. The way to avoid this situation is through a triad, a three-way conversation. This keeps you accountable to delivering the same message to both parties and ensures they are on the same page, as well.

Admit Your Mistakes

Leaders are human. We make mistakes. We know it and our employees know it. When we admit our mistakes, we tell others that it is safe to admit their mistakes. Such vulnerability and authenticity is the first step to improving our performance.

I hope you find these seven insights useful. Commit to making just a couple of improvements in your culture and you will be well on your way to making 2018 a more successful year. Best wishes.