August 9, 2018

Development vs. performance cultures: What type of organisation do you want to be?

Is a high-performance culture right for your organisation? The immediate answer might be yes, of course. Performance is, after all, what drives business success.

Although this approach makes sense in many companies, it isn't right for everyone. In fact, high-performance cultures have been shown to stifle innovation and cause high turnover in businesses where the alternative – a development culture – would be more suitable. 

Only some types of employees will be happy in a high-performance culture. High-performance cultures can lead to high levels of job satisfaction – but only for some.

High-performance cultures: All they're cracked up to be?

There are several reasons why you might want to implement a high-performance culture at your company. It develops organisations where: 

  • Productivity is high.
  • Employees are able to respond easily to change. 
  • They regularly put themselves forward for tasks and claim ownership of outcomes. 
  • Progress and goals are constantly measured to enable continuous improvement. Any areas where the organisation is falling behind can be easily identified and remedied, leading to a higher success rate. 
  • Employees often have high job satisfaction because when they hit their performance metrics they get a frequent sense of achievement. 

These are all features of highly successful organisations, and elements of a high-performance culture are desired to some extent everywhere. However, many disadvantages of this type of culture have also been noticed:

  • It can create an extremely competitive environment that leaves those employees who aren't in the top rung feeling disheartened.
  • It can foster a feeling where outcomes have more value than individuals. 
  • Employees may feel a lot of pressure to hit performance metrics, leading to high staff turnover. 
  • The company could end up stifling innovation because it is scared of risk or any experimentation that could damage its high performance. 

Development culture

One alternative to a high-performance culture is a development or growth culture. This encourages employees to recognise shortcomings or insecurities, instead of hiding them in the name of high performance. The hope is that identifying these will lead to clear training opportunities. High performance will then follow because employees have overcome their weaknesses and are stronger all round. 

Development cultures are categorised by:

  • Safety: Employees feel safe to highlight areas where they are under-performing, encouraged by leaders who show vulnerability where it's due and take responsibility for shortcomings or failures. 
  • Continual learning: Identifying shortcomings helps to highlight opportunities for learning and development. 
  • Experimentation: Trying new things won't be discouraged, and because of the feeling of safety, employees won't feel like they will be punished if an experiment doesn't completely go to plan. 
  • Feedback: Constant feedback mechanisms will be embedded at all levels of the organisation. 

This type of culture still rewards success but instead of seeing people's weaknesses as an entirely negative thing, shortcomings are simply seen as opportunities to learn and grow

Employees often feel safer in development cultures, which in turn encourages innovation. Development cultures encourage experimentation because employees feel safer.

What culture is right for you?

Performance will always be an integral part of business success, and this isn't to say high-peformance cultures should be dropped entirely. It's important to achieve a balance, and each element of your culture should be decided by your wider business's values.

For example, if you value teamwork and collaboration, high-performance might not be right for you as it tends to focus on individual achievements. If you want to encourage individual superstars, however, you should definitely be taking elements from high-performance cultures into account. 

Likewise you need to consider your business goals. If you want to increase profit and grow into new regions, a high-performance culture will suit this well. If you are more focused on customer satisfaction or creating new products, a development culture that encourages innovation without risk is the one for you.

Executive recruitment specialists at JacksonStone & Partners

If you believe you could change an organisation's culture for the better, it might be time to step up to the next level of the career ladder. The executive recruitment specialists at JacksonStone have years of experience helping job candidates unlock their full potential. For more information on our recruitment services, contact the team today.