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High-performance cultures let your agency grow faster, increase revenue and embrace a mindset of continual improvement. So how are they built?

What Are ‘High-performance’ Cultures?

Your corporate culture dictates how people internally and externally perceive your agency, and how it performs.
It is the essence of the business – the collective result of your values, people, activity and goals.
A ‘high-performance’ culture is one in which there is a shared focus on performing tasks to the highest possible standard – on reaching and surpassing set goals and on continually improving, both on an individual and organisational level.
It is an environment in which teams work actively to eliminate mediocrity, and support each other collaboratively in an ongoing effort to raise performance standards.
VC-backed startups are often excellent examples of high-performance cultures – motivated teams who are committed to delivering their best work in order to achieve ambitious, high-pressure goals.

Why Are They Necessary?

Without a focus on fostering and celebrating high performance standards, teams tend naturally to settle on a path of least resistance. This usually involves doing good work, but delivering at or around the minimum level required by leadership.
Cultures without a high-performance focus cause significant problems for ambitious agency owners, in that:
  • they require continual motivation – employees are not engaged or energized by their work itself, and need management to provide ongoing stimulus
  • they do not self-develop – with no cultural focus on improvement, team members do little to no self-training and lack curiosity to learn
  • they require continual monitoring and direction – teams may lose focus, momentum or fail to reach goals unless repeatedly prompted
  • they accept mediocrity – failing to reach or exceed goals is commonplace
  • they lack accountability – team members have no cultural commitment to each other to deliver their assigned goals
In high-performance cultures, these tendencies are reversed.
Team members are more likely to self-teach, take ownership for their goals, work with minimal supervision and exceed targets.
For founders seeking to scale their recruitment agencies, creating and enabling a culture in which individuals embrace the company’s broader goals and work effectively without time-consuming management input is essential to unlocking rapid growth.

How Are High-performance Cultures Built?

As with any cultural transformation, developing a high-performance environment involves bringing together multiple strands of business activity in a single, coherent thread.
Some of the core building blocks of high-performance cultures include:
  • Leveraging value statements – deliberate emphasis on excellence and ongoing improvement should be fixed in a company’s basic principles, discussed with all new hires as a part of their onboarding program, and regularly reviewed and talked about to ensure they are being upheld.
  • Celebrating over-achievement – recruitment agencies can have a tendency to focus only on sales results in their rewards and celebrations, sometimes overlooking great working being done in other areas.

    This may be recruiters who exceeded activity KPIs, new hires who scored highly in training assignments, or non-recruitment personnel (marketing, finance, HR) who delivered above expectations.

    Highlighting and discussing examples of standout performance across all areas of the business is key to building a culture where weak points are addressed and all team members work to improve their overall skill sets.
  • Valuing training and development – if committing to a culture centred on learning and improvement, company leadership must substantiate this vision by making time and resources available for training, workshops, training tools and opportunities to learn new skills.

    Leading from the front is also important, with senior company figures actively building their own skill sets and demonstrating willingness to work on weak areas.
  • Including employees in goal-setting – during performance reviews or business planning, it’s important to generate employee buy-in on key targets. Involving team members in defining goals, as opposed to prescribing them from the top down, can drive engagement and commitment to deliver.
  • Letting high achievers share their stories – as well as providing recognition from a leadership perspective, there can be high potential impact in allowing top-performing recruiters to present their own successes to colleagues.

    Peer learning and identification helps learners to connect in a different way, and success stories can have added authenticity when not delivered by company ownership.
  • Focusing on skills and ability, not just results – as well as celebrating sales goals, KPI attainment and other metric-based outcomes, it is also important to highlight how team members have achieved results, specifying the skills used, knowledge applied.

    This can be critical in demonstrating that employee ability is valued in itself, not only end results.
  • Building a shared vision of culture – no aspect of business culture can be imposed, and the more employees are included in discussions around shaping culture, the higher the chances of success in implementing that culture.

    Although perhaps happy to settle for mediocrity when not challenged to deliver better, most employees do not actively seek to work in a company defined by average people and performance.

    Inviting team members to participate in setting their own high standards can be pivotal in bringing that vision to life.
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