5 drivers of performance culture

Culture exists inside every organization.  But is it the one you want?  Does it reinforce focused consistent action? In our study of elite sports and military environments, as well as our work with best-places-to-work organizations, we have found several characteristics tangibly present…and all within reach.

1. Mission

The first characteristic of high performance cultures is that the people share a compelling mission.  It is a big why, and their key actions connect with it.

If you think you have alignment because you have a mission statement: beware.  It’s not enough to have one.  People must know it by heart and live it daily.  If you are unsure, assess your alignment around mission in 5 minutes by asking everyone to respond privately to three questions:

– Why does our organization exist?
– What does success look like?
– How do your key actions connect to our mission?

Don’t be alarmed if answers differ.  It’s a gift!  You just discovered misalignment…now pull the team together and get on the same page.  For tips on mastering organizational alignment, check out Verne Harnish’s book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.  Verne has developed the most comprehensive approach to alignment on the market…and it all starts with mission.

2. Trust

The second characteristic of high performance cultures is that the team members genuinely trust their leaders and each other.  If you lack trust, good luck driving transparency and accountability.

By trust, I don’t mean that people trust each other to act predictably.  After all, I trust that a snake will bite me if provoked…because that’s what it does.

Instead, I mean that they feel safe being real with each other.  They don’t fear retribution for speaking their minds.  They are willing to put their success in each other’s hands.  They can agree to disagree.  They genuinely value each other and believe the organization’s success relies on each and every member of the team.

Want to check your trust factor?  Ask a few more questions…

– Do you feel that your leadership team has your best interests at heart?
– Do you believe that your boss cares about you as a person?
– Do you feel safe voicing differences of opinion in meetings?
– Do you fear making mistakes at work?

For more on trust in the workplace and it’s effect on high performing cultures, consider experts like Patrick Lencioni and his book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, or Stephen M. R. Covey and his book, The Speed of Trust.

3. Talent mindset

How many championship baseball teams are made up entirely of pitchers?  None.  The same is true on every other team.  You must have diverse talent to truly excel.  According to our friends at Talent Plus, a talent is “a natural ability not acquired through effort that can be cultivated to achieve near perfect performance”.

High performing organizations not only have complementary talents with respect to their thought processes and relational abilities, they actually value those differences.  They seek them out.  They celebrate them.  Let’s face it, we are not all created equal.  Each of us is special in our own ways, and high performing organizations dig deep to understand and harness those differences.

For more on talent, consider resources like Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0, Marcus Buckingham’s Stand Out, or engage a professional firm with the science and validated instruments to assess your people’s talent and help you understand how to put those talents to work.

4. Accountability

At the end of the day, are you measuring what gets done and holding people accountable for doing what matters most and delivering their best?

Accountability in baseball takes on stratospheric proportions.  They perform out in the open.  Thousands of people are watching.  Every pitch is recorded on the back of a baseball card, and the game is being recorded so every play can be shown again and again indefinitely.

Perhaps we’re fortunate that we don’t all perform our jobs with such accountability…it would be stressful!  But then again, don’t you think you would pay a bit more attention to your contribution?  Might you give a little extra effort?  We all would.  Accountability isn’t fun, but it works.  High performing organizations embrace accountability.

5. Performance venue

The final observation is that high performing cultures tend to operate in high performance venues.  Their training facilities are immaculate.  Their equipment shines.  Their processes are detailed.  And, there is a prominent scoreboard showing how the team is performing at all times.

What’s more, they celebrate success.  You will see championship banners, trophies, and imagery that calls up a heritage of success.  It just feels special.

Has your work environment ever been mistaken for “hallowed ground”?  Do you get goosebumps by what you see, hear, and smell when you are there.  Do you ever just want to sit and take it in?  What if you did?


When it comes to creating an environment where people consistently do what matters most, there is a lot we can learn from those who have gone before us.  And, their lessons are all within reach for the leaders and team members committed to building a high performance culture.