High Performance Cultures: The Role of Leadership

Senior Leader In Office With Her ColleaguesA true high performing culture provides an agency with its single greatest source of operational advantage and probability of achieving agency mission. It is no coincidence that the White House’s most recent budget contains language specifically connecting engagement to agency performance.

“…an employee’s investment in the mission of their organization is closely related to the organization’s overall performance. Engaged employees display greater dedication, persistence, and effort in their work, and better serve their customers—whether they are consumers or taxpayers.”

Appropriately, the 2016 budget for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) contains $66 million for leadership development, recognizing that agency leaders can enhance and leverage this expenditure by focusing on key areas such as:

Development of self. Individual contributors need to know how to provide feedback to their leaders, contribute to collaborative efforts, and constructively problem solve, and also must understand how agency values guide desired outcomes.

Development of first time leaders. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader of others is a critical shift.  More often than not, individuals making this transition have not had prior training and development in this regard.

Continuous improvement training. As leaders advance to more progressive and expanded levels of responsibility, additional training will improve the capacity to drive the necessary elements of culture into workforce behaviors and outcomes. This will be of vital importance as the quantity of direct reports and overall responsibility expands both horizontally and vertically.

Culture as the Glue to Performance

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) contains several statements correlating culture and leadership to performance:

  • “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better”
  • “I am held accountable for achieving results”
  • “Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services”
  • “My agency is successful at accomplishing its mission”
  • “My supervisor listens to what I have to say”
  • “Managers promote communication among different work units” (For example, communication about projects, goals, needed resources, etc.)

This sampling of FEVS statements illustrates the importance culture plays in defining and driving performance. For example, questions about recognition highlight the importance of using agency values as a way to recognize desired behaviors that support the agency’s mission.

When cultures are well defined and preserved, there is a direct correlation to performance.  For leaders looking for ways to get started, here are six initial steps.

  1. Know what winning looks like. Agencies must define acceptable standards of performance and critical success factors, develop metrics to track progress, and embrace gap closure plans.
  1. Look outside as well as inside. While focusing on internal operations and policies is important, agencies must also adapt to external situations and influences to be a high performing organization.
  1. Think and act like an owner. Agency leadership must ensure that individuals at all levels take full responsibility for their behaviors and actions while embracing personal accountability for development and results.
  1. Commit to individuals. When investments are made to develop individuals and when performance is recognized, the workforce is engaged and committed to achieving maximum performance.
  1. Spread the courage to innovate. Maximum performance requires continuous improvement by developing systems for receiving input on how to enhance outcomes.
  1. Build trust through transparency. Performance is improved when the workforce understands leadership’s intent. When data about policy, direction, and performance is openly shared with healthy debate about decision making, a higher level of vested interest results.

To improve employee engagement and performance, focus on the large and small day-to-day ways your culture can be shaped.  And don’t underestimate the role leaders play in that equation.

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