High Performance Culture

High Performance Culture

Great Companies that Execute at a High Level of Consistency are Defined by a High Performance Culture


In today’s hyper-competitive business world, companies that are delivering sustainable performance are masterful at executing their promises and commitments to clients and to shareholders. What is it that allows companies like STEP Energy Services, Disney or Starbucks to be so successful? From working with CEO’s for the last 15 years to create Transformational Leaders who are able to build sustainable performance within their organizations, we at Awesome Journey see that a critical component of their success is that the CEO and the Senior Leadership Team made the commitment to build a High Performance Culture. In this article, we will demonstrate how to build a High Performance Culture to support your goal to design a company that is able to deliver sustainable performance.


What is Culture?

Every organization has a culture; however, is the culture in your company, High Performance/Healthy or a Low Performance/Unhealthy Culture? A culture is a “Network of Conversations” that people in the organization are having. It is common beliefs, values and behaviours that demonstrate an organization’s culture.

Many organizations have an unhealthy or low performing culture, typically because the Senior Leadership Team does not understand the role that they play in building a Healthy or High Performance Culture.

If you do not develop your corporate culture, it will develop itself. Corporate culture doesn’t happen by accident–and if it does, you’re taking a risk.”

— Monique Winston


Definition of an Unhealthy or Low Performance Culture

An unhealthy or low performance culture is characterized by “Background Conversations” that staff are having that lead to people eroding trust within the company. This leads to staff becoming disengaged, which leads to poor execution. This is visible in the company through the following:

  1. Low employee engagement – employees are late for meetings, employee sick days are high, etc.
  2. KPIs are not defined or measured
    • Missed sales targets
    • Profit targets and budget overruns
    • Operational targets are not clear
  3. High turnover of staff or worse – warm bodies showing up everyday
  4. Time wasted on ‘firefighting’
  5. Micro-management by leaders
  6. Unacceptable levels of frustrated clients
  7. Little recognition and appreciation to staff
  8. Non-accountable behaviours:
    1. Deadlines aren’t clearly established and agreed to
    2. Poor communication
      • People do not feel safe in expressing their real thoughts
      • People listen with the intent to respond, not hear
      • Issues are not being discussed and dealt with
      • Little real time quality feedback

3. Absence of consequences for poor execution

4. Lack of collaboration among team members and departments – hoarding of information


Definition of a Healthy or a High Performance Culture

A healthy or high performance culture is characterized by “Intentional Conversations” that staff are having that build trust in an organization. The foundation is a set of core values that influence staff to behave in a way that drives deliberate action towards a set of clear outcomes. This is exhibited in the company through the following:

  1. High employee engagement, staff go the extra mile willingly
  2. KPIs are being achieved – sales, profit margins and budgeted targets are met Operational targets are being achieved
  3. Low employee turnover – staff love working for the company
  4. Time is used wisely and colleagues are respectful of others’ time
  5. Leaders trust and empower their staff
  6. There are many long term and loyal clients
  7. Employees are recognized and appreciated regularly
  8. Accountable behaviours
    1. Deadlines are clearly understood and regularly achieved
    2. Effective communication occurs
      • People feel safe and share how they honestly feel in private or in a group setting
      • People listen with the intent to understand each other
      • Key issues are addressed and resolved in peaceful ways
      • There is an abundance of real time quality feedback occurring throughout the company
    3. Strong performance management system in place to support high quality execution
    4. Plenty of collaboration and sharing between team members and departments


How does a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) go about creating a High Performance Culture within their organization?

Step One: Commitment

The first step is understanding it will be fraught with highs and lows, progress and setbacks. It will take time and commitment. The SLT needs to understand they will author the culture and they need to own it. Making the commitment to be a High Performance organization starts with being accountable to the promises and agreements we make with each other? The organization needs a set of “Guiding Principles or Core Values” so everyone in the organization can decide if they can align with and support them.

Step Two: Core Value Discussion

The SLT needs to define a set of “Guiding Principles or Core Values” that will define the personality of the company. This will involve a passionate debate within the SLT in order to create four or five core values and a clear definition of each value that everyone agrees on. One example may be to choose the core value ‘Excellence’; and define what that means so everyone in the organization understands it and can live by it.

Excellence: We are committed to being masters of the details in everything we do. This will ensure that the decisions we make and the service we deliver to each other and our clients will be flawlessly executed.

Step Three: Make it Real Through Intentional Conversations

Once you have defined the “Guiding Principles or Core Values” that you are committed to living by, the next step is to present the core values to the organization and get everyone to decide if they can support and live by them. Here are some examples of what successful companies are doing to achieve alignment to their core values:

Hiring new staff

High performing companies incorporate a series of questions in their hiring process that include their core values to ensure that the candidates they hire are aligned with the company’s culture.

Repetition and reinforcement

Whether it is a safety meeting, sales meeting, executive meeting, operations meeting or a company-wide staff meeting, talk about the core values. Ask individual staff members this question, “Tell us how one of the company’s core values had an impact on you this week.” Or, “Share with the team how one of the company’s core values allowed you to deliver great service to a colleague or client.”

On-boarding new staff

Ensure that managers or a member of the SLT have an intentional conversation with all new employees to review the core values, what they mean to the entire organization and how they are expected to live them.

Decision making

When making decisions ask, “How does this decision align with the company’s core values?” 

Example: You decided to go to your boss and ask for an extension on a project deadline. You reflect on the company’s core values before you have the intentional conversation with your boss and you realize that one of the core values is ‘Accountable’. To the company accountability means, “I will honor my word and do what I say I will do.” As a result, you decline to ask for an extension and decide to stay late to get your work done and meet the deadline.

Company events

Design a set of intentional conversations around celebrating individual and corporate success. If one of your company’s core values is ‘Excellence’, the following are examples of how you can use company events to re-enforce the core value of ‘Excellence’:

    1. Staff Meetings – share client success stories and real client feedback
    2. Staff Birthdays – hold monthly birthday parties to honour staff celebrating a birthday in that month
    3. Staff Anniversaries – recognize individual staff for their length of service to the company
    4. Individual Staff – celebrate individual staff success stories, both professionally and personally

Unique Company Language

All High Performance Cultures have developed their own unique language that supports building a company personality.

At Disney some of the key words they are committed to speaking to honour their unique culture are:

  1. All employees are called “Cast Members”
  2. When Cast Members are working they are either “On-Stage or Off-Stage”
  3. Staff that design shows or movies are called “Imagineers”
  4. All customers are called “Guests”
  5. All cast members are focused on providing “Magical Guest Experiences”

At Starbucks some of the key words they are committed to speaking to honour their unique culture are:

  1. All employees are called “Partners”
  2. Staff that make the coffee are called “Baristas”
  3. Your total pay package is called “Your Special Blend”
  4. The size of coffee you order is not small, medium or large it is “Tall” (small), “Grande” (medium) or “Venti” (large)

At Step Energy Services some of the key words they are committed to speaking to honour their unique culture are:

  1. All staff are called “Professionals”
  2. All field staff are called “Field Professionals”
  3. We deliver “ECE” to our clients – Exceptional Client Experiences
  4. We deliver “EEE” to our staff – Exceptional Employee Experiences
  5. Customers are called “Clients”


Four Stages of Developing a High Performance Culture

There are four stages to developing a High Performance Culture:

Stage One: Forming

The SLT presents the company’s core values and strategic goals for the upcoming year to the team. Done successfully, staff are energized by the event; they are grateful for the clarity and attitudes are positive for the future potential.

Time duration: 0 to 3 months

Stage Two: Conforming Through Repetition

Through leadership from the SLT, the team is buying into the new company culture and what you see or hear is staff supporting each other, staff being accountable for their commitments, and staff sharing ideas for company improvement – staff is engaged.

Time duration: 3 to 6 months

Stage Three: Storming

The team’s commitment to living by their core values will be tested by performance issues that can arise by events such as the economy declines, product deliveries are delayed or sales soften. This puts a strain on employees and will test the individual’s and organization’s resilience to living its core values. You may see and hear the following non-accountable behaviours emerging:

  • Staff members deferring blame – it wasn’t my fault that the client didn’t renew their contract with us
  • Staff members not collaborating with other members of their team – it is another group’s fault
  • Staff members reacting negatively to feedback given to them to improve
  • Staff giving excuses, justifying or rationalizing as to why their performance is not meeting targets

This is a crucial time in the company. By living the core values through intentional conversations directly related to building a high performance culture, the SLT can keep things on track.

Staff members will demonstrate through their behaviours and attitudes if they are willing to transform to the new culture. This will be a true test of the SLT commitment to the new culture. Turnover will occur as people self-select and leave or others are identified for release because they do not live the values and support the culture. It will be particularly tough when a previously top performer needs to be released because they are choosing behaviours and attitudes that don’t support the new culture. The SLT needs to trust that this individual can be replaced by someone who will still deliver results yet live by the company’s new culture and values.

Time Duration: 6 to 12 month

Stage Four: Transforming

The team is consistently living the company’s core values and demonstrating the following behaviours of a high performance team:

  • Team members holding their colleagues and the SLT accountable to their commitments
  • Team members requesting feedback
  • Team members challenging each other
  • Team members sacrificing for each other
  • Team members celebrating their success and wanting to set new stretch goals
  • Team members brainstorming solutions to challenges
  • Team members having courageous conversations with each other

Time duration: 12 months to 18 months



Companies that are deeply committed to building a High Performance Culture realize that a key component to differentiating themselves in a crowded marketplace is their commitment to having “Intentional Conversations” throughout their organization, on a daily basis, at all levels in the organization to build a unique culture of Trust, Discipline and Learning.

Step Energy Services has a high performance culture. Step has created this culture with the support of Awesome Journey and we work with Awesome Journey coaches throughout the organization in support of our culture.


This paper is written by: Eric Crowell, BSc, President of Awesome Journey and, Regan Davis, CEO of Step Energy Services

“The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”

Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. former CEO IBM


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