Why High Performance Organizations Are Hard to Build

by Jeff Scott, on Jun 26, 2014 12:04:00 PM

high-performance-car-1Productive organizations get more work done than expected. High performance organizations produce the unexpected. They not only produce more, they also produce “different”. When most people think of organizational performance, they think first about productivity. Are we getting enough work done? And how do you get a highly productive organization – by focusing on efficiency. The more efficient the organization is in producing its deliverables, the more productive it becomes. This focus on efficiency and productivity is what creates a barrier to building a truly high performance organization.

Highly productive organizations display these attributes:

They are highly structured – Productive organizations are all about efficiency and their organization design reflect this. Their organizational structures are largely based on the work process and become more rigid over time as processes become better defined.

Roles are clearly defined and differentiated – Everyone is clear on exactly what their role is and what it is not. There is very little overlap of effort and few organizational conflicts to distract staff members from their tasks.

Processes are well defined and tuned – Highly efficient organizations are typically process centric. They spend their organizational development energy on defining and refining their processes. Processes are well documented and six-sigma type process improvement initiatives are common.

Specialization reigns – With well-defined processes and highly differentiated roles, specialization becomes the path to personal success.

High performance organizations look quite different:

Less structure, wider boundaries – High performance organizations have flatter organizational structures that are frequently in flux as the organization adapts to change. Some of this change is externally driven but much of it comes from within the organization as leadership’s vision evolves.

Just enough process – Processes are fluid and dynamic. The organization relies much more heavily on staff to do the right thing at the right time. There is less focus on doing things the right way and more focus on doing the right things.

Roles are in flux – Roles are not highly differentiated and are constantly in flux as the organization experiments with different approaches to meet its remit as well as how to expand its charter.

Learning reigns – Personal success is based less on deep specialized knowledge and more on breadth of knowledge and adaptability. Staff members know when good enough is actually good enough and spend more time learning new skills than refining existing ones.

The next logical evolutionary step for a highly productive organization is to a high performance organization but that doesn’t happen. As organizations evolve to higher levels of efficiency, they move further and further away from the attributes of high performance organizations.

The bottom line:_________________________________________________________________

If you want a high performance organization, you have to either design for high performance from the start or be willing to drive a serious organizational transformation effort to reorient the staff to a new way of thinking about performance. Neither approach is easy, but working in a high performance organization is the most rewarding professional experience you are likely to have.


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