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5 min read - June 12, 2024

Managing Alignment and Flexibility for High Performance

High performing organisational cultures need high performing alignment, in an environment that can accommodate flexibility.

All organisations want to be performing at their best. What success looks like can vary based on the purpose of the organisation, however, there are clear links between engaged employees operating in a high-performing culture, and optimised results. Results show up in aspects such as revenue and cost outcomes, customer/stakeholder experiences, perception of brand, and employee loyalty.

A high-performing culture rarely occurs without deliberate action. Creating or enhancing a high-performing culture requires alignment of artefacts, espoused values and beliefs and basic underlying assumptions (Schein’s three levels of culture).

Alignment does not mean rigidity. Organisations must be able to flex to accommodate diverse needs of their employee base, whilst maintaining focus and consistency. I like to refer to this as flexibility within a framework.

Three Levels of Culture

Edgar Schein, an organisational scholar, defined culture as having three levels:

  1.  Artifacts - This is the level of culture closest to the surface. Artifacts are things you can see, touch, smell. It’s the office layout and facilities, the logo and branding, the events you run (e.g. birthday morning teas, Christmas parties etc.) and the tangible benefits you provide (e.g. free lunches). This is typically what we think of when it comes to company culture.
  2. Espoused values and beliefs - One level deeper is your espoused values and beliefs. These are the things you think you believe and say you believe, such as a mission statement, what is captured in an employee handbook, or how you describe expected ways of working.
  3. Basic underlying assumptions - This is the greatest influence of culture. Basic underlying assumptions are the things that you show in action that you value.

Applying these 3 levels to the implementation of a Wellbeing (support) strategy, then we know “starting at the fruit bowl” and expanding the offering available to employees is not going to work.

We firstly need to know the issue we are addressing and why it is important to us and our employees. As a result, the leadership of an organisation will genuinely believe that they have a critical role in managing employee wellbeing – for example, to overcome and prevent any negative impacts associated with the work being performed or the environment it takes place in; and then taking a wider view that a healthy and well employee is more likely to be able to contribute to their fullest potential. If a Wellbeing Strategy is seen as “nice to have” then it will never be core in the decision-making process (neither by leaders nor employees).

Once there is genuine commitment to a Wellbeing strategy, then both the What and the Why of support being available is clearly articulated and accessible. If an organisation also espouses that they encourage employee empowerment, and/or recognise diversity then the resulting artifacts will be collaboratively designed and/or provide employees with choices that align with their personal management of their wellbeing.

Addressing Flexibility Whilst Managing High-Performance

Using Hybrid working as an example of where employers need to achieve high performance whilst providing flexibility, is topical.

We know that there are numerous studies that indicate allowing employees to conduct some of their work remotely has productivity and innovation gains. This has largely been attributed to a removal of distractions (physically and psychologically). There has also been evidence to suggest that hybrid workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and less work exhaustion, which could simply be from the more tangible aspects of remote work such as avoiding lengthy commutes, having access to normal foods, being able to quickly do household chores in breaks, more comfortability in taking stretching breaks, dressing in a relaxed style etc. So, hybrid working can support a high-performance culture ... if managed well.

Where we see hybrid working fall down, is often on the leader’s perceived lack of visibility of work (be that hours, contribution etc.)  conducted outside the office. We also know, through our experience with understanding psychometric assessments, and what they tell us about work preferences, is that personality is influential, in affecting the way in which employees respond to working conditions. There will always be people with working styles preferences that are either more or less suited to remote working.  For example, a preference over social conditions. So leaders have to manage across diverse preferences.

Attributes of high performing teams and cultures

According to author, Patrick Lencioni, we can recognise a high-performing team when we see:

  • Mutual trust that results in effective working relationships – willingness to be transparent and open, willingness to collaborate, acknowledging other strengths, to learn and adapt
  • Constructive (informed, respectful, focused on solutions) debate and challenge – including sharing of relevant information, keeping others informed, appreciation of diverse perspectives
  • Commitment – to a clear purpose, outcomes and ways of working –
  • Accountability – with clear roles and responsibilities, no shifting blame
  • Attention to results - and a commitment to measures impacts; celebrating successes

We can recognise a high-performing culture when we see repetitive and consistent traits such as:

  • A shared view and focus on success
  • Agility and adaptability, and continuous learning and development
  • Employee empowerment
  • Collaborative mindsets and work practices
  • Willingness and safety to fail in order to learn, innovate and succeed
  • Motivation driven by excitement not fear

Improving Culture

Changing an organisational company culture isn’t about just changing artifacts and espoused values and beliefs. Saying, “We believe in honesty and transparency” or writing “We believe in diversity and inclusion” on your website doesn’t automatically make those things true.

Changing a culture is about tapping into the core beliefs of each individual, understanding what their basic underlying assumptions are, and creating an environment where those can be listened to, brought together, and reacted to.

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