A high performance strategy has to be aligned to the context of the organization and to its business strategy. Every organization will therefore develop a different strategy, as is illustrated by the case study examples set out in Table 10.2.
Approach to development
A high performance strategy is focused on what needs to be done to reach the organization’s goals. The aim is to create and maintain a high performance culture. The approach to development is therefore based on an understanding of what those goals are and how people can contribute to their achievement, and on assessing what type of performance culture is required as a basis for developing a high performance work system.
The characteristics of a performance culture are that:
- a clear line of sight exists between the strategic aims of the organization and those of its departments and its staff at all levels;
- people know what’s expected of them – they understand their goals and accountabilities;
- people feel that their job is worth doing, and there is a strong fit between the job and their capabilities;
- people are empowered to maximize their contribution;
- management defines what it requires in the shape of performance improvements, sets goals for success, and monitors performance to ensure that the goals are achieved;
- there is strong leadership from the top that engenders a shared belief in the importance of continuing improvement;
- there is a focus on promoting positive attitudes that result in an engaged, committed and motivated workforce;
- performance management processes are aligned to business goals to ensure that people are engaged in achieving agreed objectives and standards;
- capacities of people are developed through learning at all levels to support performance improvement, and people are provided with
opportunities to make full use of their skills and abilities;
- a pool of talent ensures a continuous supply of high performers in key roles;
- people are valued and rewarded according to their contribution;
- people are involved in developing high performance practices;
- there is a climate of trust and teamwork, aimed at delivering a distinctive service to the customer.
The development programme requires strong leadership from the top. Stakeholders – line managers, team leaders, employees and their representatives – should be involved as much as possible through surveys, focus groups and workshops.
Developing a high performance work system
The steps required are described below. The more line managers and other employees can be involved at every stage, the better.
- Analyse the business strategy:
- Where is the business going?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the business?
- What threats and opportunities does the business face?
- What are the implications of the above on the type of people required by the business, now and in the future?
- To what extent do we – can we – obtain competitive advantage through people?
- Define the desired performance culture of the business and the objectives of the exercise. Use the list of characteristics above as a starting point and produce a list that is aligned to the culture and context of the business and a statement of the objectives of developing a HPWS.
- Analyse the existing arrangements – start from the headings defined at stage 2 and analyse against each heading:
- what is happening now in the form of practices, attitudes and behaviours (what do you want people to do differently?);
- what should be happening;
- what people feel about it (the more involvement in this analysis there is by all stakeholders, the better).
- Identify the gaps between what is and what should be – clarify specific practices where there is considerable room for improvement.
- Draw up a list of practices that need to be introduced or improved – at this stage only a broad definition should be produced of what
ideally needs to be done.
- Establish complementarities – identify the practices that can be linked together in ‘bundles’ in order to complement and support one another.
- Assess practicality – the ideal list of practices, or preferably bundles of practices, should be subjected to a reality check:
- Is it worth doing? What’s the business case in terms of added value? What contribution will it make to supporting the achievement of the organization’s strategic goals?
- Can it be done?
- Who does it?
- Have we the resources to do it?
- How do we manage the change?
- Prioritize – in the light of the assessment of practicalities, decide on the priorities that should be given to introducing new or improved practices. A realistic approach is essential. There will be limits on how much can be done at once or at any future time. Priorities should be established by assessing:
- the added value the practice will create;
- the availability of the resources required;
- anticipated problems in introducing the practice, including resistance to change by stakeholders (too much should not be
made of this, change can be managed, but there is much to be said for achieving some quick wins);
- the extent to which they can form bundles of mutually supporting practices.
- Define project objectives – develop the broad statement of objectives produced at stage 2 and define what is to be achieved, why and how.
- Get buy in – this should start at the top with the chief executive and members of the senior management team, but so far as possible it should extend to all the other stakeholders (best to involve them at earlier stages and communicate intentions in full).
- Plan the implementation – this is where things become difficult. Deciding what needs to be done is fairly easy; getting it done is the hard part. The implementation plan needs to cover:
- who takes the lead – this must come from the top of the organization; nothing will work without it;
- who manages the project and who else is involved;
- the timetable for development and introduction;
- the resources (people and money required);
- how the change programme will be managed, including communication and further consultation;
- the success criteria for the project.
- Implement – too often, 80 per cent of the time spent on introducing a HPWS is spent on planning and only 20 per cent
on implementation. It should be the other way round. Whoever is responsible for implementation must have very considerable project and change management skills.