How To Create A High-Performance Work Environment?

high performance company

In the last post, I mentioned a book by Professor Thomas Kochan, Shaping the Future of Work: What Future Worker, Business, Government, and Education Leaders Need to Do for All to Prosper, in which he provided reasons for the challenges we are experiencing in the workplace today. He traced many of the issues to the New Deal legislation of the 1930s, and he concluded that we need to resolve a mismatch of the outdated employment policies and the fast-paced changes in technology, globalization, and demographics. He also included his vision of the next-generation workforce and how companies can become high-performance organizations.

Today’s work environment is still structured on the premises of the industrial economy. Many of the employment policies were put in place almost 100 years ago, at the time when most employees were full-time male workers under the close supervision of managers at large domestic companies. Women stayed home and attended to family responsibilities. Thankfully, those times are over, but the outdated employment policies remain. That is why we need to reform public policies, business strategies, and workplace practices to reflect the current knowledge-based economy.

Another challenge we have seen since the 1980s is the short-sighted business models, which focus only on maximizing profits and making money for shareholders. Many organizations that follow these principles have forgotten that the purpose of a business is not only to make money for the shareholders but also to provide good jobs for its employees. What we mean by good jobs is explained in this post, where I talked about the Good Jobs Institute.

The business strategy and workplace practices that all organizations should strive for consist of three elements:

  1. Deliver strong profits to shareholders
  2. Create good jobs and careers for employees
  3. Provide reasonable prices and excellent service to customers

When Professor Kochan surveyed his class, asking the students to rank their aspirations and priorities for work, he received familiar responses. His students expressed desires in:

  • Doing important work
  • Giving back to the community
  • Having a work/life balance that melds together
  • Utilizing technology to make work more accessible
  • Having a passion for work
  • Helping people
  • Earning a decent living “while making the generations before me proud”
  • Having autonomy and flexibility at work
  • Engaging in a variety of different projects

These desires make it clear that leaders must listen to their employees and involve them in solving problems that truly matter not just for the organization, but for the society in general. As we have seen over the last several months, leaders also need to be flexible in how, where, and when employees do their work so that they can meet the demands of their professional and personal lives.

Decades of research have shown the following specific practices that high-performance organizations across industries employ:

  • Thoughtful hiring selection of employees with strong problem-solving, collaborative, and technical skills
  • Consistent investment in training and development of employees
  • Commitment to trust, cooperation, listening to employees and distributing leadership across levels and functions
  • Nurturing of a shared culture that is aligned with the values of leaders and employees
  • Empowerment of well-trained and talented frontline workers
  • Drive for innovation
  • Alignment between employee compensation and the company’s interests
  • Labor-management partnership when employees are represented by unions or professional associations

I have talked a lot about what organizations need to do as we continue to define the future of work. However, companies do not operate in a vacuum. They are part of a broader ecosystem that includes government, labor unions, societal norms, and the educational system. All of those institutions exert influence on the quantity and quality of jobs organizations can create. This means that not only do organizations need to transform, but also the institutions that support them must transform as well. Professor Kochan sees a clear lesson here:

“When an economy needs to create new, high-quality jobs, it must have strong, growth-oriented macroeconomic policies in place and must nurture technological invention, entrepreneurship, and innovations.”

Organizations that implement high-performance business strategies and workplace practices become the key drivers of achieving a new social contract and the creation of meaningful work for their employees.

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