Company Culture

10 Practical Ways to Promote a High-Performance Culture

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A company's culture describes how things get done. But it's not really about perks such as free lunches, ping-pong tables and Take Your Dog to Work Day. CEOs and other leaders can and should manage their companies to shape the culture they want.

Here are 10 policies and programs that I have found effective in promoting a high-performance culture:

Related: How Much Is the Noise in Your Open Office Costing You?

1. Create private offices for every employee.

Writing recently in the Guardian, Jeremy Paxman said, “An open-plan office is a way of telling you that you don’t matter.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I do believe that private offices make a difference, especially for knowledge workers who need to feel valued and empowered to do their best work. It also helps with recruiting.

2. Set an open meeting policy.

Any meeting that doesn’t cover sensitive subjects such as pay and personnel issues should be open to everyone in the company. Employees can learn a lot from attending meetings with executives and members of other departments. Secrecy and a lack of transparency amount to a recipe for mediocrity.

3. Establish an open-book management policy.

Along these lines, treating the company’s financial information like a state secret is no way to run a business. Providing transparency about how the business is faring lets employees feel like trusted members of the team and have as much certainty as possible about the company’s future prospects. Also, if employees don’t know the score, they don’t know how to improve it.

Related: Culture That Counts -- 5 Ways to Dramatically Boost Employee Satisfaction

4. Communicate a clear mission, vision and goals.

Employees not only need to know how the business is performing but also where it's headed. All employees should understand the goals of the company and how their individual jobs support them. This is essential for employee engagement. Also, by asking for regular feedback about how employees are tracking toward meeting their goals, leadership can get a good idea of the organization’s progress.

5. Create an anonymous feedback mechanism.

CEOs are isolated at the top, often receiving only positive information about the company. That's why they should set up a way for employees to provide anonymous feedback. This empowers employees and makes the CEO more informed about potential issues.

6. Give employees some control over their work environments.

Employees need to feel some autonomy at work. One policy I instituted was to give my new employees $250 to decorate their offices. This small gesture allowed them to create their own unique work environment. Combined with policies such as flexible work hours and unlimited vacation (within reason), employees begin to feel some control over how they engage at work.

7. Assimilate new employees into the team quickly.

Starting a new job is stressful. Engaging these employees can decrease their uncertainty and help them more rapidly feel part of the organization, which might decrease turnover. New employees at my company meet with members of the executive team during their first few weeks of work. This helps them understand the purpose and strategy of each department at a high level and quickly build connections across the organization. It also lets each executive know each employee’s role and value.

8. Develop objective pay policies.

Fundamentally, people aren’t motivated by pay, but they can be demotivated if they feel that they or others in the organization are paid unfairly. For this reason, I base salary decisions on objective data, not subjective opinions. Unlike what happens at many companies where raises are tied to yearly performance reviews, I decoupled pay from the review process. I tie starting pay and regular raises to third-party data showing the value each person has in the market, making compensation conversations much less contentious.

9. Avoid creating an employee caste system.

No one -- not even the CEO and the executive team -- should receive special treatment. Perks such as executive wings, eating areas and parking spots should have gone the way of the dodo long ago. Employees notice when they are separated into the haves and have nots, and this is detrimental to camaraderie.

10. Promote learning and growth at every opportunity.

For everyone in a company, from the CEO to the entry-level employee, continuous learning is essential to growing and adapting to dynamic market conditions. Encourage employees to constantly improve their skills and market knowledge. Support employees who want to go back to school, attend training sessions or expand their market knowledge. This can provide tremendous long-term value to a company.

Related: Radical Transparency Can Re-Energize a Company's Culture and Deliver Results