In Search of High Performance

By Mary Ann Masarech , Lead Employee Engagement Consultant

Fully engaged employees are enthused and in gear. That means their willingness to perform is backed up by their individual talents, alignment with organizational priorities, coaching from their managers, and the resources that they need to achieve results. Yet one of the poorest performing items on many of the employee engagement surveys we conduct is “senior leaders have created a work environment that drives high performance.” Ouch! That is disheartening feedback for executives charged with delivering results.


Of course, a work environment that does not support performance impacts job satisfaction, too. Who wants to be tied down by paperwork, distracted by office politics, scrambling for resources, and crippled by cumbersome organizational practices?


A high-performance work environment is clearly the responsibility of everyone, not just the senior leaders of your organization. Your talent management and compensation policies play a key role. So our current workplace study on performance management is designed to delve into the challenges and best practices of organization-wide performance management approaches. To be interviewed about ways your organization makes performance management work, click here. Meanwhile, use the questions and tips below to revisit your own behavior – and that of your fellow leaders. Thinking about these things will help your on your way to high performance leadership.


If You Are a Middle Manager…


Ask yourself these high performance leadership questions:

  • Does everyone on your team understand their top three priorities for the next few months?
  • Do you really know what gets in the way of each team member’s performance?
  • What can you do within your control to shape your team’s work environment?
  • What one or two changes would have the biggest impact on your team’s satisfaction and contribution? If you can’t drive these on your own, how (and to whom) can you make your case for change?


Try this:


  • Every week or two, discuss each team member’s workload and help prioritize which outcomes matter most.
  • Conduct engagement conversations with each team member to understand what’s working in support of high performance and engagement – and what’s not. (For ideas on how to do this, check out our eNews on this topic: 3 Manager-Employee Conversations You Need to Have.)
  • Remove barriers to performance wherever you can.
  • Talk to your peers about the organizational practices that get in the way of high performance for their teams. Look for themes and brainstorm ideas for driving change from the management ranks. Strategize how to provide upward feedback on small changes that would have significant impact.
  • Recognize high performance and address poor performance.
  • Watch what you say and do. Acknowledge your team’s frustration with less-than-ideal situations, but don’t join gripe sessions.


If You Are a Higher-Level Executive…


Ask yourself:


  • Do you regularly weave the organization’s strategy and values into your communications?
  • Are you and your peers aligned? Are there disagreements at the top of the organization that may be creating silos or barriers to smooth working conditions throughout the organization?
  • When was the last time you examined the daily practices and processes for your unit?
  • To whom can you turn to get candid feedback on decisions and policies?
  • How well do you hold managers accountable for collaboration and results? Are there performance issues you should be addressing?
  • Are you relying too much on money and perks and not enough on purpose?


Try this:


  • Ask the managers who report to you what is getting in the way of high performance. Work with HR, finance, or other peers to address organization-wide practices that don’t work.
  • Resolve disagreements with peers. If necessary, bring in an executive coach to facilitate a team meeting to address issues that are interfering with your effectiveness as a leadership team.
  • Invite suggestions from employees on process improvements.


In conclusion, don’t forget that leaders need to excite people to exceptional performance. We’ve written about this before, and it involves more than enthusiasm and inspiration. It requires what Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones describe as an “edgy intensity to raise the bar on performance.”