Companies that achieve results far exceeding those of their peers for a minimum of five years are recognized as High Performance Organizations (HPOs). It’s a title that reflects consistent, measurable, market-leading performance in both financial (such as revenue growth and return on investment, or ROI) and non-financial areas (such as customer satisfaction and employee loyalty), and is a coveted benchmark for organizational success.
In our recent Transformation Masterclass, a five-day event for business leaders, Proudfoot company’s best and brightest transformation experts to outpace their competition consistently former CEO Pamela Hackett spoke with some of the best and brightest transformation experts in the company to share the secrets to building HPOs. We uncovered five key things that top organizations do to consistently outpace their competition.
5 things High Performance Organizations do
1. They understand what makes them unique
“I’d rather be someone’s shot of whisky than everyone’s cup of tea” is a quote that has stood out in Hackett’s mind since she first saw it in an Irish shop in Toronto. While the unique selling point (USP) is a familiar concept for all businesses, High-Performing Organizations have truly embraced their uniqueness as a core part of their identity.
And how does that help with successful transformation? “I’ve seen businesses that know their point of difference, that have the courage and creativity to live up to their uniqueness, and really achieve their transformation goals,” says Hackett. “And they live up to it – they live up to their brand. They know how to get stuff done and they know how to get it done rapidly. They know how to bring people along with it and they know how to get the results when they’re really in the thick of executing change.”
This is hardly surprising when you realize that clarity of identity leads to clarity of purpose, and High Performance Organizations are synonymous with purpose-driven organizations. “They operate with purpose. Actually, it’s almost great to say they operate on purpose,” Hackett continues. “They act on purpose, and they’ve got a cause that people can get out of bed for in the morning. Doesn’t always have to be a save-the-world cause, but it’s got to be something that suits your business and your people.”
2. They manage to engage
One of the key reasons that transformations fail is a lack of internal alignment. When people throughout the organization don’t buy into change, they won’t want to invest the extra effort and energy required to make that change happen.
“COVID-19 really demonstrated to chief executives, to the C-suite, to management teams everywhere that change can be done quickly – once you create alignment within the organization,” observes Jon Wylie, President of Global Natural Resources. “Once everybody understands the need to move, you can move quite quickly. But you’ve got to get them on the same page first.”
But how do you achieve internal alignment? The answer: clear communication and active engagement from leadership. HPOs have leaders that manage to engage, and are committed to personally driving change from the top down. “I think what has been really interesting to learn is that these best-led organizations have leaders who are really out there and really focused on driving behavioral change.
They understand that if you want to achieve real, transformative results, you’ve got to be able to get involved and do the work. You can’t just think yourself into the new world,” Hackett says. “You’ve got to really drive change in such a way that people want to get their toes in the water, they want to do different things, and they want to change their behaviors for the betterment of the business.”
This ties-in closely with the first point – HPOs know what makes them unique, and they use that point of difference to get their employees and stakeholders engaged in the transformation process. And the hardest problems on the planet can be easily solved once you get people engaged. “As leaders, we’ve got to get our teams plugged into where we’re going, what we’re trying to achieve, so they can make a choice and don’t feel that they’re being conscripted,” says Trevor Jamieson, Managing Partner for Europe. “It’s not an ‘I have to’. It’s an ‘I want to’.”
3. They embrace change
Leaders today can no longer approach major change as once-in-a-lifetime events. In order to achieve business resilience and continued growth in the face of an increasingly volatile environment, change needs to be seen as an ongoing and continuous process. Only then will transformation no longer be seen as a disruptive event that needs to be addressed on the fly, but as an ongoing mindset that naturally builds agility into the organization.
“High Performance Organizations are passionate about continuous improvement and innovation,” shares Hackett. “They make that passion the lifeblood of the business – they view change not as a special project, but as something that gets built into day-to-day work. They’re constantly excited about finding that neat, new, and different thing that’s innovative for the business. They balance engagement and productivity. They are fit and healthy. And because of that, they’re profitable in any price cycle, in any demand cycle. Because of that, they’re able to handle disruption, no matter what the disruption is.”
Aaron Streeton, Chief Delivery Officer, agrees that it all starts with the right mindset. “A lot of times in organizations, when people see problems, they get discouraged,” he shares. “But with the right mindset, it becomes exciting to find problems because then you know what needs to be fixed. If you know what your problems are, you can get better. If you don’t know what your problems are, they’re going to stay hidden, and things aren’t going to get better. It’s as simple as that. Problems are gold.”
4. They make ESG a part of their DNA
More than being the right and responsible thing to do, prioritizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors is simply good for your bottom line. The whole concept of sustainability safeguarding the planet is built around future-proofing your business – to ensure that your current revenue models or income streams are still viable in the long term, 20 years from now.
What sets High Performance Organizations apart, however, is their understanding of how to operationalize ESG and total decarbonization. This has allowed them to shift away from ESG as compliance, towards ESG as commitment. They’ve baked environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and good governance into the DNA of their organization such that it has become an inherent, natural part of the way they do business.
And the results speak for themselves. ESG has had a measurable and positive effect on company valuation and performance, even though the pandemic – high ESG-rated organizations delivered consistently higher profitability and lower risks compared to their counterparts.
More than that, top talent – key to the success of HPOs – are attracted to environmentally and socially conscious companies. “People absolutely want to work for organizations that are cognizant of ESG,” affirms Wylie. “People are starting to ask themselves more often: ‘How am I contributing to the community?’”
5. They don’t overlook the forest for the trees
HPOs have a long-term vision and goal that is far more important than short-term profits. Too often when implementing change, companies forget to get off the hamster wheel, take a step back, and re-evaluate the root issue they’re trying to address. “It’s the same idea of looking at an organization’s fitness and health,” say Streeton. “If you focus solely on getting short-term results, you’re going to hurt yourself in the long term.
“Recently, we did a job in Asia for a chemical factory, and they were so focused on improving their OEE (overall equipment effectiveness). We had to stop them and say look, we can get you up to a 95% OEE, but it’s going to last two months and then you’re going to shut down for two months because you can’t run,” he continues.
“We explained that we have to put proper maintenance and operations behavior in place, we have to engage your employees to make sure they’re knowing why we’re asking them to do this before we try to ramp this up. Otherwise, you’re going to greatly hurt yourself in the long run and that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to help you grow your business and be predictable and sustainable in the future.”
In their pursuit of market leader status, what makes High Performance Organizations stand out isn’t so much the content of their strategy, but the execution of their strategy. To succeed at transformation and the execution of strategy, organizations need to start off with a stable foundation and strong internal infrastructure. Most importantly, never lose sight of the power of people to make or break, and sustain, your change efforts.
To learn more about how to build high-performance organizations, contact us today.