General leadership is always a task that moves an organization forward. But creating and leading a high performance team may increase retention, efficiency, and even profit. In an age when buzz words sometimes get more notice, let’s look at high performance teams and determine how to make that team a reality instead of simply a popular term.
First, leaders must define what high performance really is. There are general leadership attributes that can be reached and exceeded by leaders at all levels and in all types of organizations. But the true definition of high performance leadership is going to center on the organization, its needs, and the way it will become a leader in its field. For example, simply providing customer service is not a high performance attribute. But providing 100% customer satisfaction in every customer interaction is a high performance standard, especially when that standard is measured and is part of accountability. So to begin creating a high performance team, determine what attributes create high performance at the individual, group, and organizational level.
Once you have defined high performance, you must create a structure to achieve it. As we mentioned, high performance goals are not valuable if leaders are not held accountable to them. So the question becomes how to hold leaders accountable. One way to do this is to create a “stretch” environment, where reaching a goal is great but stretching beyond it is high performance. For example, the 100% customer satisfaction measurement may be impossible to achieve. But is 95% customer satisfaction impossible? Given the right situations, effective training, and consistent coaching, it probably isn’t. To stretch this high performance goal, make 95% the point where the team meets the goal, and 96% where the team begins to excel the goal. High performance teams are always looking to excel their previous performance, so by creating this structure you’re paving the way for excellence.
In line with stretch goals, leaders must create incentive to reach goals – and excel them. There are numerous ways to create incentive. Obviously bonuses or profit sharing are great ways to draw high performance. But the way the cash incentive program is created will keep the high performance team in stretch mode. For example, pay 1% profit when the team reaches the 95% customer satisfaction goal, 2% at 96%, and so on. Bonus and profit sharing programs create high performance and retain those high performers. But what about non-cash incentives, especially when the organization may be operating in economic uncertainty? One way to avoid up-front cash is to consider making team members eligible for promotion as they achieve various levels of stretch goals. Obviously there will be a cost involved, but salary is typically not going to be an “off the top expense”. Also, consider products or services offered by the organization as rewards for achieving stretch goals, or consider reallocating funds for reward. For example, if executives are accustomed to a trip to a seminar or something similar, consider using those funds to reward the top performer.
Outside of the realm of incentive comes the sense of spirit you, as a leader, must create. As high performers are identified, bring them together to brainstorm organizational problems and create solutions. Have the groups meet once a month for a network event, especially if the team members aren’t geographically located with one another. Let the high performance teams know that they are the future of the organization, and that it is their responsibility to solve problems and lead others in the organization to their levels. As this type of environment begins to emerge, you’ll see a team spirit begin to take shape amongst the high performers. They will “recruit” other high performers and send the message down the line.
Finally, coach, teach, mentor, and hire for high performance. Coaching and training in leadership and advanced operational topics should always exist for high performance teams. This provides yet another incentive for high performers, who are always interested in learning and improvement. Assign coaches or mentors to the high performers as they emerge – this way, you’ll consistently have a support system that ensures the continuance of high performance behavior. If the budget allows, offer leadership training for the high performers at various levels. As they learn and improve, they will begin to create other high performers simply because of their every day behavior.
But perhaps the most important aspect of creating and leading high performance teams is to hire for high performance. As you define high performance at individual job levels, you will begin to define ideal candidates for every position in the organization. When this occurs, even entry-level employees are leaders in their own rights. Organizations have the tendency to hire in order to get a “warm body”. When this practice is replaced with a search for the person with the high performance attributes, leadership begins at all levels.
Creating the high performance team is a process, but follow these basics and you’ll see results quickly.