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Building a high performance culture is possible, says BCG

High performace culture

Boston: Most business leaders know that a high-performing culture is critical to their organization's success. Yet many struggle with culture change, finding it an elusive and drawn-out process with hard-to-predict results.

High Performance Culture: Getting It, Keeping It, a new report from The Boston Consulting Group, shows that culture change is not only feasible but, when done right, also achievable in a reasonably short period of time.

This is significant because a focus on culture is imperative in a number of circumstances. Whether an organization is undergoing a major transformation or simply needs to improve operating performance, addressing culture is critical in order to achieve and sustain success. There's not an organization anywhere--business, government, or not-for-profit--that is not likely to confront the need to address culture if it has not done so already.

BCG's report debunks four common myths about culture and culture change. It outlines a systematic approach to culture change based on the answers to four questions: What culture do we need? What culture do we have--and why? What aspects of the organizational context should we change to get the behaviors we seek? and How do we make change happen?

What Culture Do We Need?

One widespread myth is that there is one universally "good" culture. Certainly, there are common attributes that every organization should seek, such as employees who care about their work. But in reality, a high-performance culture requires more than a standard set of such attributes.

Every high-performance culture shares two characteristics: employees who are fully engaged and individuals and teams that exhibit behaviors specifically aligned with the organization's strategy and goals.

To identify what culture an organization needs, leaders should analyze their strategy to determine the appropriate level of employee engagement and the behaviors that best support it.

What Culture Do We Have--and Why?

Another myth is that culture is chiefly determined by mindsets. In reality, culture is primarily determined by organizational context--the environment in which people operate. This environment is shaped by a broad range of factors, from how the organization is designed to the nature of performance reviews. To understand why a culture is the way it is, leaders should analyze the context to discover the roots of employee behavior. "No company can expect the desired behaviors to emerge when everything about the context encourages the opposite behaviors," observed Jim Hemerling, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the report.

What Aspects of the Organizational Context Should We Change to Get the Behaviors We Seek?

Yet another myth is that it is hard to know how and where to intervene in order to change employees' behavior. In reality, learning what to change is logical and feasible. With a sound culture diagnosis in hand (and techniques drawn from social and behavioral psychology), organizations can design interventions to activate seven context levers, among them: leadership practices, people and development processes, and informal interactions.

How Do We Make Change Happen?

The fourth common myth is that changing behavior and culture is a gamble. In reality, it is a predictable process that can be orchestrated to achieve the desired results. Several practices can ensure that an organization's interventions will help achieve the intended results. These range from enlisting change champions and running pilot programs to developing coordinated communication plans and rigorously monitoring results.

Like any major change initiative, culture change requires a disciplined change-management effort. "A robust change-management program helps keep expectations fresh, communicate progress, and demonstrate that leaders are committed," said Julie Kilmann, a senior knowledge expert at BCG and co-author of the report.

According to the report, whatever the challenge--whether a wholesale transformation or a performance improvement--achieving and sustaining success depends on having a high-performance culture. By answering these four questions and recognizing culture myths for what they are, organizations can be confident about getting and keeping the culture they've always wanted.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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