What is a high-performing organization?

How does it operate? How does it feel? What is different in that organization as compared to those that fail to reach peak performance?

Questions like these are no doubt on the minds of so many leaders these days, particularly as we start to look ahead to the second half of a year that continues to throw macro curveballs our way. Pressure continually mounts to not just hit expectations but surpass them. Just last week, my team was on a call from a leader at a high-tech firm whose was facing pressure from his boss to ensure that his team shifts into a “high-performance function.” A mandate, straight from the top, for this leader to do something different with his team to compete more aggressively amidst the business landscape of today.

Most of us would agree on what the outcomes of high-performance look like and feel like. It evidences in markers such as…

Year-over-year growth

Dominant market share

Industry trailblazers

Superior digital experiences

Next-level customer journeys

Product and service stickiness

Employees who are stark raving fans

KPIs not just met, but surpassed

Custom and FAST customer service delivery

Much like the new construction house that has fine details, impressive crown moldings, exquisite furniture, hardwood floors… there are things that we can see and point to in high-performing cultures that look, feel, and operate great. But just as is the case with that dream home, there are things that we can’t see that had to be in place to ever walk through the doors of the dream home.

A plot of land was selected and excavated.  An architect’s design was approved, materials ordered and subcontractors scheduled. The foundation was poured followed by framing all the functions needed such electrical, HVAC and plumbing. These are all of the essentials that make any dwelling livable.  But what makes a house a dream home, is all of the decisions that create that wow factor. The kitchen layout, the appliances, the hot tub and the in-home gym.  None of which would be possible or imaginable without the foundation.

When it comes to high-performing orgs, the stuff we can see — brands that last, products that stick, next-gen employee experience, etc. — is no doubt important. But it’s what is below the surface that matters most. It’s about the micro and macro decisions leaders make every single day to drive to the desired output.

Let’s dive into 3 core pillars that drive optimal performance within companies. Things that have always been important but perhaps carry an even greater weight today:

Velocity-Based Mindset: To perform — and outperform — organizations need to adopt a velocity-based mindset. This means having a sense of velocity when it comes to everything… decision making, course correction, standing up new technologies and capabilities, timing adoption curves, elevating voice of customer and feedback loops, innovating products and services, collaborating across teams, etc. High performing orgs, simply put, are just faster than the rest, while still protecting and demanding quality output — specifically quality of process and product. Orgs that achieve a velocity-based mindset know that it’s not about sprint for the sake of sprinting. But rather, it’s about being able to zig and zag, remain nimble, and embrace responsiveness versus allowing blockers to persist.  Making decisions fast includes making it safe to fail and embracing a lose fast mentality. With a mindset towards velocity, leaders end up crafting an environment of continuous improvement, delivery, and refinement… knowing that the next milestone is always a few decisions and moves away.

Another high-performance pillar? Communities of practice; dive in here

Data-Committed: While 97% of businesses are investing in big data and AI, only 24% of executives say they’d describe their companies as data-driven (source). High-performing orgs challenge this statistic by making an intentional and unapologetic decision to be data-committed. Being data-committed is more than just having access to proper BI tools, leveraging AI/ML where it makes sense, and establishing org-wide KPIs. The companies that are leapfrogging others are in a continual state of analysis. Wondering things like…

  • Are we measuring the immeasurable? Or are we defaulting to measuring what’s easy?
  • Are we integrating AI/ML at the points at which humans and machines come together most powerfully?
  • Do we trust our data?
  • Are we elevating dark data or are we sitting on opportunity (more on that here)
  • Is our organization simply “reporting the news” or are we leaning on predictive, leading indicators?
  • Are we collecting enough information on our customers (employees, customers, partners, etc.)?

Data-committed organizations are always rethinking their approach to measurement, tooling, and analysis, ensuring that they are using the data to not just tell them what happened or where they’ve been, but to predict the future.

Automation Where it Makes Sense: In the race to automate, what and where you automate matters. In fact, it can be the difference between realizing efficiencies, producitivty, and savings or causing diminished team morale, increased headaches, and greater swirl. High-performing orgs know exactly where to automate, when it makes sense to go semi or fully autonomous and, perhaps most importantly, the impact of their people when they get it right (as well as what happens when they don’t). Leaders at peak operating companies are not afraid of examining workflows and asking “where is our team most getting bogged down?” They desire to know what is happening in every seat in the business so that they can introduce the right approach to technology and automation that drives true business impact that employees themselves desire.

These pillars are the wood, foundation and electricity of your house. Support structures that enable performance to not just be reached, but elevated to the next level. As you start to think about where your foundation needs a little extra pouring, here are a few questions to consider…

  • Are we moving fast enough? And are we able to balance pace with quality at the same time?
  • What functions in our firm need to operate more intentionally with a velocity-based mindset?
  • What do we not know about our business? What insights are laying right below the surface that we are not illuminating?
  • Does our data tell us who we are going to be tomorrow? Or is it simply reporting on who we used to be?
  • Where is our team getting stuck? Where is org waste rife within our company?
  • Are we automating to make our teams superhuman? Or are we automating what’s easy?


Our Technology leadership team holds regular office hours to help you sort through answers to questions like the above. Wish to connect with them directly? Click here to schedule your Office Hour session today!