“The true measure of the value of any business leader and manager is performance.” –Brian Tracy

Last month we introduced our series on organization development (OD) and culture, explained how this process relates to change, and showed how these ideas are applied in the real world. This month we’re taking on the second component of OD and culture: performance.

Strategic performance management

In our work with nonprofit leaders, Brighter Strategies is guided by a holistic strategic management philosophy. This means we believe that no program, process, or initiative should occur on its own, but rather as part of a larger whole–one that is thoughtfully planned and strategically aligned with broader organization goals.

The purpose of performance management in such an organization is to ensure that business goals are efficiently and effectively being met and the agency is aligning its resources to these priorities. A performance culture is one in which performance management reinforces the shared norms, values, and behaviors that you wish to develop–and prohibits those you do not.

The following characteristics are hallmarks of a performance culture:

Candid communication.

The organization’s strategic goals are clearly defined, aligned with performance outcomes, and communicated throughout the entire organization. Employees at all levels of the agency can identify these goals and understand how they relate to individual performance expectations.

Trust and risk-taking.

Employees feel comfortable taking risks to achieve performance outcomes because the organization promotes a trusting environment. In such a “safe space,” individuals are not afraid to fail, and innovation thrives.


When an organization upholds candor and trust, openness is a natural result. Employees are more honest and ask questions freely. The organization is one in which its talent is not only a perceived strength, but a real contributor to performance success.

Strengths focus.

The organization encourages employees to create performance goals that play to their natural strengths. Employees feel empowered to develop skills and behaviors that are important to them and their career aspirations. Organization performance is at its peak when such talent performance is optimized.

The leader’s role

As a leader, you are responsible for driving a high-performance culture in your organization. Creating a healthy environment that attracts and retains talent is certainly not easy, but it starts at the top. Here’s how.

First, you must walk the talk. Communicate with staff clearly and frequently, and be open and honest–always. Role modeling these behaviors takes self-awareness and personal reflection. If necessary, find a coach who can support you in developing such qualities.

Second, reward risk-taking and even failure when it occurs in pursuit of performance outcomes. As you manage employee performance, be accountable to your own contributions to the organization’s success.

Finally, design–or reinvent–your performance management system to cultivate employee strengths. Grow comfortable with your own strengths and opportunities for improvement and surround yourself with people who complement your natural abilities. In our next blog article we will discuss some of the new models of performance management that are being implemented in many high-performance cultures today.

How will you take the first step to create a culture of high performance in your organization this year?