HR as a Key Innovator: 3 Strategies to Create a High-Performing Company Culture

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g.
Please enter your work email


In a way, your company’s culture is the personality of your organization. Just like any good personality, it should run deep. That means your culture should extend beyond casual dress codes, office perks, and paying lip service to fluffy initiatives like “no jerks allowed” policies.

For workers of all ages, company culture is a major determining factor in employment choices. Because of this, crafting an employee experience that fuels sustained motivation is one of HR’s most critical responsibilities. To build a company culture that meaningfully impacts the organization and actually guides its operations, HR and other stakeholders must clearly define and continuously reinforce a variety of cultural factors, including work environment, company mission, values, ethics, and performance expectations and goals.

When properly established, structured, and disseminated, a company’s culture can be a powerful tool for improving organizational performance. When managers and employees are aligned around shared goals and business priorities — and equipped with the tools they need to carry out effective feedback and career development conversations — a company can create a culture of performance that ensures a long-term competitive advantage. HR plays a key role in establishing such a culture.

With that in mind, here are three essential cultural elements HR teams can nurture in order to develop a high-performing culture:

1. An Environment Where Transparent Feedback Is Regularly Shared

The No. 1 characteristic of a successful team is trust. Your people should feel psychologically safe within their teams and able to speak freely with their managers  about both work and life in general. This level of trust can only exist when people can develop their relationships through real-life conversations and shared experiences.

To that end, HR teams should strive to create “cultures of feedback”  that allow for open communication and continuous, transparent feedback at all levels of the organization. When employees and their managers are able to trust and partner with each other, everyone is motivated to achieve their goals and to develop themselves to meet tomorrow’s challenges. Companies must work with employees across the organization to develop the muscles of giving and receiving continuous feedback. This will lead to increased agility, alignment, and motivation throughout the company.

2. A Sense of Purpose to Unify and Motivate Your People

According to Gallup, a staggering 87 percent of employees around the world aren’t engaged at work. Every business leader should be deeply concerned by this.

Unemployment rates are low and competition for talent is fierce. Organizations that fail to optimize employee engagement and people performance are at risk of losing their best and brightest talent. Even more importantly, as a business leader you have a responsibility to the people who spend the majority of their waking lives working toward your company’s success. It is your duty to ensure your employees find purpose and meaning in the work they do for you.

The “Global Leadership Forecast 2018” report  from DDI, EY, and The Conference Board defines “purpose” as “an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for the organization, its partners, stakeholders, and society as a whole.” In other words, a shared sense of purpose serves as a unifier.

A shared sense of purpose requires that each employee can link their individual objectives to the overarching mission of the business. When employees see a clear alignment between their goals and the goals of the organization, they gain an understanding of how their work impacts the company’s overall performance. Employees who feel purpose in their work are more likely to stay with the organization for longer and more likely to perform at a higher level.

3. Development for Managers, the Linchpins of Performance

It’s no exaggeration to say that your people managers make or break your organization’s culture. In fact, they play an outsized role in motivating employees and improving performance across the workforce.

Good managers align their teams around the most important initiatives, ensure progress toward individual and team goals through continuous coaching and feedback, recognize and reward top employees’ contributions to the business, and work with every employee to create career development plans. Bad managers, on the other hand, demotivate employees, damage morale, are a significant cause of attrition, and can even damage the reputation of your business with prospective hires.

With all of this in mind, it should be clear that investing time and resources into helping your managers develop and improve their skills is critically important. Too often, new managers are thrown into their roles without adequate training. It is imperative that your HR team helps each manager understand the coaching and development elements of their role. By arming your managers with the skills and tools they need to give and receive quality feedback, be better coaches, and facilitate career growth, you take a huge step toward ensuring a thriving, healthy culture.

Words Are Nice, But Actions Are King

The strategies I’ve outlined above are critical actions for leaders aiming to build cultures of high performance and sustainable growth. However, they are just the start. They aren’t quick fixes, but major shifts in the DNA of your organization. These strategies must be carefully planned and executed in order to have a real, lasting impact.

If you’re willing to commit to the process of making these changes in your organization, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Embracing the mindset of change is, according to Gallup, a key differentiator among the most engaged companies. An engaged workforce is necessary if the culture of performance is to be more than just a nice idea.

Doug Dennerline is CEO of Betterworks.

By Doug Dennerline