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What 5 things do high-performing organisations have in common?

By Ian Barrow, Senior Employee Experience Consultant at WorkBuzz – this article first appeared in HR News

High-performing organisations don’t just happen by accident, they’re designed. And, far from being simply down to individuals’ skill levels and knowledge, organisations that thrive have highly engaged employees who are part of a cohesive and purpose-driven workplace culture.

Here are five key things high-performing organisations have in common, and that leaders must focus on too if they want their businesses to excel.

An inspiring purpose

Every highly successful company starts with a clear purpose that all its stakeholders must buy into. Apple, for example, is known for being innovative and some put its success down to ‘making technology beautiful’. However, this couldn’t have been achieved without a strong purpose and clear vision of how it wanted to impact the world:

Apple is dedicated to the empowerment of man – to making personal computing accessible to each and every individual so as to help change the way we think, work, learn, and communicate.

And so by living and breathing the company purpose, everyone clearly understands what the end goal is, and is inspired to go above and beyond.

A powerful employer brand

The most memorable, high-performing organisations have a strong ‘employer brand’, which refers to how they’re perceived in their industry and their ‘promise’ to their employees. An employer brand combines company culture, employee engagement and overall employee satisfaction, and is crucial to attracting and retaining talent.

Starbucks is a good example of a brand with a powerful and impactful employer brand. It’s successfully created an appealing company culture while cultivating a close-knit online employee community. Plus, by actively encouraging current and potential employees to interact with its brand through social media, Starbucks has nurtured a team of ‘brand ambassadors’ that job seekers trust.

Similarly, organisations looking to become an appealing place to work must find ways to tell their organisation’s story and describe the employee experience to candidates in new and engaging ways. This will help when competing for top talent.

A focus on the employee experience

When we consider some of the high-performing organisations from history, Ford might well spring to mind. Known for manufacturing the first mass-produced automobile, it’s easy to overlook that Henry Ford was not only innovative but also forward-thinking in how he treated his workers – with a focus on keeping them well paid and loyal. In fact, he introduced a five-day, 40-hour work week when six-day working weeks was the norm.

100 years later, and leading organisations recognise the importance of the employee experience. They understand that, while a fair salary is important, there must be an emphasis on creating moments that matter throughout the whole employee experience.

From onboarding to exit and everything in between, organisations that want to become the leader in their field must provide employees with the tools to excel, while also making them feel valued, understood and part of a caring and supportive culture.

Strong workplace bonds

Yale professor Michael O’Malley defines the vital role strong employee connections play in making a company truly great by saying, “The best companies realise that personal affinities and deep social bonds are failsafe measures against team breakdowns and are essential for top team performance.”

This is especially important in a hybrid world, where in-person conversations have become less frequent and the reliance on impromptu chats has decreased. Employee exchanges now need more effort and planning, so businesses have to create trusted channels to enable this. They must also encourage and facilitate regular social interactions, moments of recognition and celebrations – both in-person and virtually.

A feedback culture

For organisations to be high-performing for the long-term, leaders can no longer give orders and mandates but must have a collaborative leadership approach. This means leaders and managers crowdsourcing employee opinion, such as through regular ‘pulse surveys’, to ensure a strong employee voice and regular feedback.

Virgin Group is one such company that prides itself on its feedback culture. In fact, company founder Sir Richard Branson explains that its leaders must “be a great listener who not only hears the recommendations from employees but acts upon them.”

The best organisations are all about giving employees a voice, listening to what they have to say, and actioning the insights. This creates a culture where employees feel like active participants rather than on the outside looking in.

Powering your organisation

It’s no coincidence that some of the most successful organisations aren’t simply focused on profits and pushing their people to work long hours, but recognise the importance of five key elements: purpose, employer brand, employee experience, workplace bonds and feedback.

There will always be those organisations and leaders that challenge this thinking, and are successful despite focusing on their bottom lines above their people. However, these companies are built on fragile foundations, and once their people feel burnt out, lonely and lacking purpose, business performance will take a nose-dive.

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