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High Performance Cultures

Deloitte UK chief executive, John Connolly, offers his own views on what it takes to achieve high performance.

By John Connolly 01 June 2006

Deloitte UK chief executive, John Connolly, offers his own views on what it takes to achieve high performance.
High Performance CulturesWhile the business landscape has changed significantly over the last two decades, and there is no single critical factor that can be identified as being the secret to corporate performance, there's little doubt that the most significant influence is an organisation’s culture.

Essentially, the word culture describes the way things are done around here, the way that people behave in the execution of their day to day responsibilities. There are job specifications, there are written goals and expectations, there are boardroom initiatives, even direct commands, and there are the things that people actually do that tend to be governed by the way that they think.

Their actions and responses have little to do with the latest corporate strategy and everything to do with embedded behaviours that have worked in the past. These behaviours inform personal decisions, actions and work styles, often invisible to senior management. We know now with certainty that behaviour is the lead indicator of organisational performance.

Successful CEOs understand this relationship between behaviours, strategy and high performance. They place these elements at the very heart of the organisation, ensuring that culture is a source of competitive advantage, allowing it to be an enabler (rather than a hindrance) to strategy execution.


Personal culture


My personal experience through the integration of 3,500 Andersen UK partners and staff in August 2002 brought home to me the relevance of culture to performance. During this integration process we were lucky to have a human capital team that worked as part of a core strategic management team to ensure that the best of both cultures would be optimised. While many people have commented that the logistical side of bringing so many new colleagues together must have been pre-occupying, I would argue that it was a relatively straightforward process when compared with the task of bring two different cultures together.

However, we had some advantages on our side that led to a successful integration. High staff retention rates and the seamless delivery of integration point to the sound underpinnings and good fit that enabled two firms to become one.

A key step for Deloitte was to ensure that client facing teams were mixed from day one, that there weren’t silos and that there was mixed leadership at all levels. The calibre of talent that joined Deloitte matched well with the talent already residing, leaving all observers to conclude that the sum of the parts was greater than the parts themselves. That is not to say that integration was an overnight success but the initial steps taken and the efforts made to ensure that there was awareness of, and adherence to, a clear business strategy paid off enormously.


Lessons in behaviour


The lesson I have drawn from this is that each organisation needs to undertake a thorough breakdown of the organisation’s strategy in order to identify the business critical events that will differentiate it in its market place. What follows is an analytical observation of on-the-job behaviours within an organisation around these events. How do things get done? How do people relate to each other? What do people do and say and how does this impact on overall performance?

The result is a detailed map of “real life” organisational performance that can be contrasted with what might be considered the corporate ideal. Highlighted within this map are the precise critical behaviours that underpin performance. Often these behaviours, for better or worse, have solidified around the cultural bedrock of the organisation.

Taking a sample of employees who are high performers and identifying the behaviours that put them in this category can help create a performance model for the whole firm.

My discussions with Deloitte’s human capital team have provided a framework around understanding behaviour as central to an organisation’s strategic and financial success.

It is possible that there will be a temptation to base performance purely on a revenue generated basis. However, in order to become flexible enough to respond to changing market conditions, to cultivate key clients effectively, and to improve the quality of service provided to clients, firms must look beyond financially-based targets and identify wider measures and linkages that will benefit the business.

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