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Creating the conditions for high-performance cultures

The Performance Curve | Performance Consultants International

David Brown explains how transformational leaders create high-performance cultures.

– 5 mins read –

David Brown is CEO of Performance Consultants International, the company he co-founded with Sir John Whitmore, the father of coaching in the workplace. David has been instrumental in shaping the global performance, leadership and coaching industry for over 20 years. He was awarded the rarely bestowed Igniting Social Progress Award by the ICF Foundation in recognition of the global impact of his vision for raising performance in the workplace, and his belief in the power of individuals and organizations to create a better future.

What your grandmother could teach your organization

I invite you to think of a person you loved being with when you were young. Not a parent but perhaps a teacher, grandparent, friend of the family or other adult who positively influenced you. If I ask you to remember how you felt when you were with that person, the chances are that you’ll recall feeling listened to, that you had their full attention. You would say that although you were young this older person believed in you and treated you as an equal, and if they challenged you it was with trust and respect. To quote Maya Angelou:

We’ve run this exercise all over the world and we’ve found people everywhere have broadly the same response. And the result is they felt their potential to be limitless.

This is what high emotional intelligence feels like. It’s the ability to relate to others from a paradigm of trust rather than fear. How does this compare to the leaders in your organization? If you are one of those leaders, how do you measure up?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Leaders set the tone

In organizations, the leaders set the tone for everybody else. Studies by the Hay Group have shown they are the greatest influence on an organization’s culture and bottom-line performance, which they can affect by as much as 30%! Meanwhile, according to The Conference Board CEO Challenge:

“the cultural DNA of an organization is critical to success, from operational efficiency to better customer service, to greater talent attraction and retention, to higher levels of business performance and breakthroughs in innovation.”

So it seems crazy how very few organizations take a proactive approach to creating and measuring their culture.

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The Performance Curve

The Performance Curve focuses on the collective prevailing mindset of the culture and how this creates the conditions for performance. It provides a useful tool for organizations or individuals to gain an immediate idea of where they are operating, either from the perspective of “this is the culture of my organization” or “this is the culture I create”. Of course, different parts of an organization can operate on different parts of the curve! You can use this awareness, to see what needs to change in order to improve performance.

The leader who is emotionally intelligent will create a high-performance culture through their way of being. A high-performance culture is often described as a “collective mentality” where there is a strong community spirit and collaboration around a shared sense of purpose. This interdependent culture, where people are able to grow and fulfil their potential, is the most highly evolved as seen on The Performance Curve.

If you’re very lucky you may have experienced this culture, but the chances are greater that you are more familiar with the other prevailing mindsets identified by The Performance Curve: impulsive; dependent; independent; inter-dependent. Each of these stages follows the process of individual psychological development which sees a reactive, short-term “Whatever happens, happens” way of being (impulsive) progress through dependence and “following the rules”, typified by behaviours such as judgement and blame, to independence which can be high-performing but carries the risks that it is too individualist. The ultimate stage is interdependence, a collective mentality supported by the leader I have described.

There are challenges to changing culture, even if there is a clear view of the benefits of a more mature and evolved state. It can push people out of their comfort zone, especially as giving people trust and ownership can feel like losing power for leaders, however they soon find they get this back in multiple from a team that is empowered and responsible and operating in a more agile way that is responsive to customers.

Coaching is bigger than coaching

A coaching style of leadership is the enabler for a high-performance culture because it shifts the organizational mindset to interdependence.

As Stephen Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Something your grandmother or that wise older person knew all along.

“Whether you are the president of the company or the janitor, the moment you step from independence into interdependence in any capacity, you step into a leadership role.”

Stephen Covey
Coaching for Performance book for high-performance cultures

“Chapter 2: Creating High-performance Cultures”, Coaching for Performance, Sir John Whitmore and Performance Consultants

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