How To Cause High-Performing Teams and Companies

or centuries, the business world has been operating inside of a model where high productivity is synonymous to high performance. Author Jim Collins starts chapter 1 of his book, Good to Great, with: “Good Is the Enemy of Great.” So, let us begin this exploration with my own assertion that: “high productivity is the enemy of high performance.”

This article is intended to assist leaders in their quest to create and sustain high-performing teams and companies. Those who engage in the exploration will:

  • Make the fundamental distinction between high productivity and high performance.
  • Get present to the impact of operating as if high productivity and high performance are one and the same.
  • Invent a new definition for high performance.
  • Distinguish “Aligned Ownership” as the prerequisite for high-performing teams and organizations.
  • Adopt practices to cause aligned ownership, create and sustain high-performing teams and companies.

High Productivity Is Not High Performance

Given the generally accepted definitions of productivity and performance, most companies and teams live and breathe in the context of the current model. Performance is how we judge, assess, and qualify productivity, in the current model. In essence, a high performer is the better, faster, and/or more efficient worker exceeding those established measures of productivity. This productivity-centric view masks, or even precludes, what’s possible for high-performing teams and organizations.

In his book, The Age of Diminishing Expectations (1994), Paul Krugman states:

“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.”

This statement is valid for workers, team members, companies and organizations seeking to improve their effectiveness and profitability. In fact, one does not have to ditch the current model. The opportunity is to reinvent what is high performance. My new definition begins with a deeper look at high performance.

The Current Model Constrains High Performance

High performance is a function of the following:

  • The goods/services to be delivered are clearly defined and stakeholders agree on acceptance criteria.
  • The processes and systems to make production and delivery repeatable and reliable are in place.
  • Employees at all levels of the organization are trained and are competent.
  • There are clearly defined production targets to meet and beat.
  • Appropriate and effective incentives exist (e.g., compensation plans, career paths, growth and development opportunities, etc.).

When you boil it all down, high performance is constrained as a function of the factors that ensure the efficient use of resources (i.e., requirements and expectations, business process management, training and competence, critical success factors, compensation, incentives, etc.). Inside of the prevailing context, everything in teams and companies is designed to maximize productivity.

The Current Model Also Constrains Relationships

Whether it’s a couple, a family, two business partners, a small team, or a company with thousands of employees, in the current model, relationships take shape, grow, thrive, or die as outlined below.

  • A list of attributes and qualifications is advertised (i.e., job postings, dating profiles, etc.)
  • Individuals and organizations who think they meet the stated criteria respond and submit an application for consideration.
  • A mutual agreement is reached. One party agrees to deliver goods, services and/or favors. For the delivery of such goods and services, the other party agrees to provide financial and non-financial compensation and rewards.
  • Over time, productivity targets and compensation are adjusted to promote high productivity and ensure satisfaction.
  • When adjustments to productivity targets and compensation are judged to be balanced and fair by both parties, the relationship continues to work. Otherwise, the relationship suffers. When imbalance persists, the relationship falls apart. Couples fall out of love, workers milk the clock, team members don’t collaborate with each other, employees gossip, companies cut compensation budgets, countries go to war, etc..

The Current Model Only Allows Quid-Pro-Quo Relationships

Quid-Pro-Quo Relationships require either a carrot or a stick to keep production levels and satisfaction high. Unfortunately, the carrot or the stick is never effective in the long run. Both parties to the agreement are left trapped in the vicious cycle illustrated below.

Whether it’s the stock market, clients, vendors, or employees, there is always something exerting pressure to adjust targets and incentives. The direction and magnitude of adjustments matter. However, what’s important to understand, is that the impact half-life of any adjustment is short. Soon, the carrot is fully eaten, the donkey becomes immune to blows, or the stick breaks.

There is a somewhat inherent inflation in the current model: Production targets rise as the purchasing value of incentives and compensation packages fall. Because productivity is high, the visible impact of the constraints of the current model go unaddressed. It’s simply dismissed as the cost of doing business, the cost of being in a Quid-Pro-Quo Relationship.

The real impact is invisible. Workers, teams, and companies relate to themselves as high performers, and are happy being high producers. They are caught in the inexorable grip of the productivity-centric model — never to venture beyond high productivity and discover high performance.

Consider: High Performance is a Function of Aligned Ownership

Having taken a deeper look at high performance in the context of the current model, we are now ready to reinvent what is high performance, the source for a new model.

What Is Aligned Ownership?

I define Aligned Ownership through the following assertions:

  1. At the individual level, ownership is internally driven by what is important, what matters, and what one really cares about.
  2. At the organizational level, ownership is driven by the vision, mission and values of the enterprise.
  3. Intersections are the points where fulfilling what you already own and fulfilling what another, or any organization you belong to already owns are one and the same.
  4. Where ownership exists, one knows what to do and when to do it to produce a desired outcome. All thoughts, plans, and actions are self-initiated. No external drivers are required.
  5. No one can make another own or convince another to own something that he/she doesn’t already own.
  6. Given 1–5 above the job of a leader, at any level in the organization, is to discover, uncover, and communicate the intersections between what team members already own and what the company/organization owns and wants to fulfill. Aligned Ownership is achieved when leaders do that work.
  7. High-performing leaders, families, communities, teams and companies are those who deliberately focus all available resources on the intersections.

The Practices for Causing High-performing Teams and Companies

Having established Aligned Ownership as THE prerequisite for high performance, I now invite you to practice and cause high-performing families, communities, teams and companies. Practice daily, at home and at work, as outlined below:

Practice 1: Pause and observe the grip of the productivity-centric model on you, others and the world around you.

Practice 2: Look and assess the impact and the cost of being in Quid-Pro-Quo Relationships.

Practice 3: Be crystal clear about what you already own for yourself, your family, your business and your community. Write it all down in the form of your vision, mission and objectives, and resolve to be uncompromising about every aspect of it.

Practice 4: Share what you already own with the world. It’s who you are. It’s your brand. It’s what you publish to attract others whose ownership naturally intersects with yours.

Practice 5: Do the work to confirm intersections and generate Aligned Ownership with your family members, friends, team members, subordinates and superiors. This may not be easy, and it’s simple. To confirm intersections and generate Aligned Ownership, take the following steps:

  • Step 1: Ask them the question “What’s important to you?”
  • Step 2: Hush, listen, and take notes. Let this step take as long as it needs to. Those who want to rush through this part, or do not actively engage are not interested in a high-performing relationship. Let it go.
  • Step 3: Ask them clarifying questions to probe in the areas of faith, health and fitness, family, friends, money, business, fun and community. Sounds and feels intrusive? It is. Aligned Ownership is not for the faint of heart.

Practice 6: Where intersections don’t exist, walk away. You also have the choice to declare yourself as a stakeholder, and generate yourself as the owner of what you don’t already own.

Practice 7: When intersections are confirmed, make clear agreements, create accountability, and celebrate.