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What SMEs Can Learn From High-Performance Work Cultures

High performance work cultures are all about entrepreneurship and refusing to accept boundaries. But they are not easy to create.

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High performance work cultures are all about entrepreneurship and refusing to accept boundaries. But they are not easy to create.

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What SMEs Can Learn From High-Performance Work Cultures

High performance work cultures are all about entrepreneurship and refusing to accept boundaries. But they are not easy to create.

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Cut-throat, fast-paced and a mild threat to your blood pressure: just a few of the things associated with “high-performance work cultures”.

Considering that the concept goes hand-in-hand with Silicon Valley conglomerates - think big profits, big workforces, big international reach - it’s not surprising that this trend-du-jour hasn’t taken with small, UK-based businesses quite yet.

But the mentality that fosters a high-performance work culture can boost a business exponentially. And there’s nothing stopping a SME from adopting this growth-forward thinking – more often than not, it’s simply a case of mind over matter.

How can you tell what’s a “high performance work culture”?

It’s all about shaping your business so every element is accountable when objectively reviewing your goals.

The brains behind models of high performance work cultures are incredibly analytical, scrutinising their workplace to find where the strengths are, how and where weak links are forming, and making sure that correct behaviour is encouraged.

After careful analysis, you can work out what’s truly important for your business goals and only then can you build guidelines for your work culture that help you get what you want.

You may have heard of some of these companies…

What kind of companies work to this model? One example would be a little-known ecommerce site by the name of Amazon. It’s known for a relentless pace of work and profit (and, reportedly, annual “cullings” of under-performing staff.)

Amazon

Amazon's high-performance culture is the stuff of legend

Over at media magnate Netflix, a high-up called Patty McCord created a slideshow “deck of culture” – 124 slides illustrating an innovative way of working that’s now notorious in Silicon Valley.

It’s a very different way of working to your average business – but there’s a lot that SMEs can learn from these power-house workaholics.

But how can a SME pick up from high-performance work cultures?

Make your company values truthful

“Company values? Got ‘em!” are what many businesses will say here, pointing to a set of HR-led, PR-friendly adjectives and concepts that sound really…nice.

But are ‘nice’ values what your company actually uses as a yardstick for performance? If you claim to value ‘honesty’, for example, can you prove that all your processes are transparent and employees are rewarded for speaking their mind?

Communicate what your real values are to nurture the culture you need. If you’re not sure what your truthful values are, ask yourself – what would get an employee promoted around here? Which behaviours are actively encouraged, and which aren’t? Therein lie your values.

Cultivate a “passion for renewal”

The term “passion for renewal” is strongly linked to being honest about your business, and was coined by Laurén and Tveit (who did extensive research into high-performance work cultures.)

It’s about accepting that constant change is the only way to move forwards. What’s more, there must be passion for this change.

Nothing gets in the way of improving business processes more than the employee who’d rather not address a situation because change is uncomfortable. In this world, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” simply won’t do.

Quantity precedes quality

Good work is always better than hard work: a mantra for many HPWCs.

You might have the hardest worker in the world, who also happens to be the nicest colleague. But if their work is only mediocre, then a kind dismissal is recommended in favour of retaining the worker whose output outshines everyone else (even if they’re not fun at parties).

Yep, this way of working isn’t about making friends.

relaxing employee

Don't mistake 'active' for 'productive'

The “keeper test”

On the subject of choosing personnel, McCord recommends conducting the ‘keeper test’. Ask yourself, if your entire workforce were to get fired tomorrow, who would you fight to keep?

Anyone left behind is not contributing the same standard – and in a high-performance work culture, every piece of the puzzle must be justified.

Remove the budgets

Bear with me.  At the risk of breaking the budget, many workers downscale their potential (as it’s often incentive-linked). Targets like budgets can therefore limit our potential, and just creating these targets is a big time-suck.

One high-performing, $10 billion company chalked up annual budgeting as a “non-value adding activity”, and cut it. Another, which grew to $50bn+ in ten years, sets targets so high that they can almost never be reached, but no-one is penalised for not hitting them.

Does it work? As they put it, “Failure to deliver the impossible still produces a miracle.”

To sum up…

It may sound like a tough approach to execute, but it’s worth remembering that entrepreneurship is at the heart of a high performance work culture.

If you’re willing to adopt the right practices, you can design your business’s future and make your goals achievable. This refreshing approach encourages realism and not accepting boundaries - and may see you outstrip all your own expectations.

Sarah Musgrove is editor in chief for Opus Energy

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What SMEs Can Learn From High-Performance Work Cultures

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