Contrasting Traditional & High Performance Organizations

High Performance

In last month’s newsletter I introduced the differences between traditional and high performance organizations. I want to continue that theme today.

I define a high performance company as "an organization that achieves outstanding results by making each person a contributing partner in the business." I want to point out that the goal of high performance is "outstanding results," as defined by a variety of performance measures. Employees as contributing partners are a means to this end and not the end in and of itself. However my experience, as well as research, show that a critical factor in creating and sustaining outstanding results over time is to create a positive work culture in which teams of people (at all levels) are meaningfully engaged in their work, understand the business, and are empowered with full responsibility for their success. The purpose of implementing high performance is to create the conditions in which this can occur.


The following chart illustrates many of the differences between a traditional and high performance organization.



Internally focused.

Customer focused.

Top-down control, bureaucratic structure.

Autonomous, self-regulating work units.

Planning and coordination done by management.

Planning and coordination done by work teams.

Specialization and narrowly defined jobs.

Jobs are broadly defined and employees possess multiple skills.

Unclear processes and procedures.

Documentation and clarity of core processes and procedures.

Rigidity: there is one single best way to do a job,

Flexibility: many ways to achieve same level of performance.

Uniform and strictly enforced policies. Do things by the book.

Minimum of rules. Values and common sense govern behavior.

Department boundaries determined by  function (e.g. Engineering, Manufacturing, etc.)

Department boundaries determined to leverage competitive advantage (task inter-relationship, customer, product or process focused).

Training focuses on technical skills.

Training focuses on total employee development (e.g. business understanding, teamwork, etc.)

Rewards based on individual performance.

Rewards based on contributions to effectiveness of team.

Employee viewed as tools of management.

Employees viewed as partners.

Alienated and unhappy employees accepted as given of industrial life.

Quality of life of employees is imperative to company.

In reality, high performance is not "either/or" but a continuum. Any organization will fall at different points along this continuum. So, it’s most helpful to evaluate where you believe you are along each of the dimensions. If you were to think of each dimension along a ten point scale with 0 at the far left of the table, 10 at the far right and 5 in the middle (between traditional and high performance), how would you rate your organization in each dimension. Let me encourage you to take some time to do this.

There are 12 dimensions so the closer you are to 120 in your score the more high performing you are. I’d say that scores above 90 are clearly moving in the direction of high performance. Scores below 60 tend towards a traditional organization with anything below 30 being very traditional.

An even better way to do the rating is to involve a team of people (either your work team or even a cross functional team of people throughout the organization). Involving more people will not only broaden your perspective but engage others in a dialogue about what you have to do to be a high performing organization.

In today’s fast changing business environment, companies that learn how to harness the collective genius of their people will race ahead of their competitors. The following steps provide a structured process to help leaders develop their human resources.

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