Peter Druker’s famous adage culture eats strategy for breakfast is often used in organizational conversations about building the organizational value proposition that helps attract and retain top talent. In my experience, that expression can be misapplied to suggest that the softer side of culture is the most important aspect of an organization’s approach – the non-traditional engagement experiences aimed at making a workplace fun.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge proponent of fun workplaces. But it often seems that performance is an overlooked or underrepresented component of making a workplace engaging, exciting and the kind of place people want to be part of. Performance-oriented cultures where goals are ambitious and teams work hard to achieve big things – can be some of the most fun, most compelling places for top talent to join and stick around. Winning together bonds teams to each other and to the company, particularly when those victories are founded on a performance culture.
Creating a culture of strong performance requires three components: clear goals regularly aligned within and across teams; simple but strong progress monitoring with consistent performance trend analysis and discussion; and straightforward, sustainable tools aimed at building capability to accomplish goals. Talent development processes anchored on a clear, consistent performance management model help enhance the experience for individuals and teams by tamping down noise and making it easier to see through to the core objectives.
Accomplishing these three foundational elements of a performance culture takes time and practice – but in any organization, the existing performance management model can be used as the starting point. Most organizations do some form of goal setting and performance measurement.
The increasing popularity of models like objectives and key results (OKRs) through which more regular check ins and goal realignment are pillars of the framework suggests there is appetite both for leaders and individuals to do more consistent, recurring evaluation of performance. While many organizations use a goal setting and performance measurement practice, a key differentiator is the regular, structured, enterprise-wide tracking of performance against objectives. With OKRs, a quarterly cadence is most common. In some instances, monthly monitoring and rolling up of results is successful.
The benefits of such a system are multiple: leaders engage in more regular feedback practice, teams are more consistent about updating goals to reflect accurately the agility they demonstrate in pivoting based on organizational needs, and cross-functional alignment is more likely because of those team-level discussions. Most importantly, individuals in the organization have both a crystal-clear picture of their goals and a regular review of their impact. As the practice is strengthened, that understanding of impact is closely connected to awareness of performance trend. And the dreaded end-of-year performance rating surprises can be avoided.
Finally, data on turnover consistently suggests that when people leave organizations, career development is the primary reason. The price tag for turnover exceeded $700 billion in 2021 – more than doubling since 2009. Many of the outcomes of performance management drive career development: talent review, succession planning and career conversations or development plans. When performance is not a central element of organizational practice, career development cannot be either. Clear, aligned, regularly tracked performance measures can help organizations hang onto their valuable talent. And knowing an organization is primed to focus on goal achievement and winning together can serve as a powerful attraction tool for high potential individuals who want to be part of that experience.