Do you Lead a High Performance Team?

What is a High Performance Team? There are so many definitions out there, but we all agree that HPT’s outperform their peers, even if they have fewer resources. Where the definitions differ is over semantics: do team members share the organization’s goals or will they still be successful when they disagree with them? Is leadership shared or dictated? I think that these differences exist between corporations hesitant to demand too much from their employees and those leaders running teams where lives are on the line. We’ve found greater success when we look to teams where consequences include death, for inspiration. After all, if my business fails, the consequences aren’t pretty. We can’t afford to fail.

I think the following best characterizes a High Performance Team:

Where does your team rate on this scale?

It is easy to judge your own team’s based on this simple definition.

Motivated by the Mission: Do you have one of those mission statements that read like a phone book? Or have you scrapped that and come up with something that better defines your company’s purpose, while being short enough to motivate all of your employees? The best mission statements answer the question: Why does the world (my customers) need this team to succeed? Your mission is your purpose for being; it is your vision for a better future.

Some Examples:

Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

ConocoPhillips: Use our pioneering spirit to responsibly deliver energy to the world.

CVS: We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use.

Dow Chemical: To constantly improve what is essential to human progress by mastering science and technology.

Southwest Airlines: The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

United by the Values: There is something primal in all of us that reacts strongly when professed values are violated. In our work with companies, even those with uninspiring missions, we’ve found that shared values contribute beyond seeming proportion to a team’s success. A good way to identify your company’s true core values is to ask: if by random chance, some of my employees and customers met at a party, what values would I want them attributing to this company? Think about it. List three or four values that you hope they would use to describe the organization. Do these values differ from the values that you currently print in employee handbooks?

It’s best to keep the list short. Three or four core values are plenty.

If you want to explore a company that gets Core Values, spend some time on the Southwest Airlines “About Southwest” section of . Southwest promotes the Southwest Way, which includes the Warrior’s Spirit, Servant’s Heart and Fun-LUVing Attitude.

Proud of the Reputation: How rich is your history and who even knows the whole story? Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz emotes creatively and compellingly through his books. These capture the big moments and inspire the troops, but do you know that they have an active internal communications dept. (as do most bigger brands). Here is a comment I found on a blog about branding: “I managed internal communications at Starbucks for four years: Our primary role was internal brand building. I can assure you that the philosophy that drove Starbucks growth is that great brands are built from the inside out, beginning and ending with employees. And that very little budget was invested in external marketing, including advertising. I have been gone for nearly a decade, but the stores I visit regularly still have that passion for the brand.”-Lewis Green.

Can you imagine how powerful your company would be if your team were given reason to be proud of their reputation? Can you imagine your corporate pride, if you advertised internally more than you advertise externally? Can you imagine if you had a team like Nike’s Internal Communication’s Team? Here is what they are responsible for:

1. Inspire employees through innovation and inspiration

2. Inform employees about Nike’s strategic priorities; drive business results.

3. Engage in Nike’s business – listen, learn, be inclusive

4. Educate and empower managers

5. Excite employees about the brand initiatives; build momentum

Follow Nike and Starbuck’s lead. Look at your culture as a profit center or as Southwest states it: “Our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long term competitive advantage.” Telling the story of your company and its people is critical to your success.

All of the High Performance Teams I’ve worked with share the above three points (they are motivated by their mission, are united by their core values and are proud of their reputation). And most well performing companies I’ve worked with share one or two of them. I was once asked by the manager of a cardboard box manufacturer to explain why his company does so well, when no one there is particularly excited about cardboard.  When we dove deeper we found a powerful bond among the employees based on their core values. They behaved like a loving family. The level of caring was powerful and in a humble way, shared by all the employees. They also took tremendous pride in the quantity and quality of their products. Cardboard boxes are a commodity, yet this group created industry leading profits

Do you have your priorities in line and in the right order?

It is the responsibility of the CEO and senior management to identify the mission and establish the core values. Hopefully this was done by the founder, before making the first sale. It is also senior leadership’s biggest responsibility to protect the organization’s mission and core values from internal and external threats and promote them to all the stake holders.  Like every employee, senior leaders need to be held accountable to this responsibility. One of the greatest threats we face is mission creep, in which the lower level organizational activities or temptations lead us away from our mission. Leaders who are also tacticians (great accountants or engineers or salesmen) are more likely to see the organization through a lens that favors their strengths. We don’t need to look further than the finance industry to see the effects of mission creep: subprime lending. Since the fall of 2008, I’ve worked with three of the top financial companies in the country. One lost $9 billion dollars because of a small group of subprime traders. The other two avoided subprime lending. When I asked the CFO of one of those banks why they escaped the temptation, he said when he first heard of it, “it didn’t seem right.” On a primal level it went against his personal and his organization’s core values. A regional president of the second bank told me essentially the same thing. These bankers knew their mission was to protect and grow the wealth of their customers.