July 12, 2023

Want a High-Performance Culture? Listen to High-Performers Most.

This insight is so obvious, it should have its own sound effect.

If you’re a person of a certain age, you remember a TV commercial for a juice product called V8. That product still exists, but since most of us only see “TV commercials” during the Super Bowl these days, you surely haven’t seen this ad lately. The 1970s ads feature a person walking around town drinking a generic “cola” and then realizing “Wow, I could’ve had a V8.” They put their palm (the one not carrying the cola) to their forehead and there’s a great pop noise in the soundtrack.

If you weren’t alive in the 70’s, for purposes of this blog, watch the first 6 seconds here.

That is precisely how obvious this post is. But it felt so surprising during a coaching session this afternoon, that I wanted to share it with you.

Right now it’s fair to say that all of my clients are grappling with some version of reacting to macroeconomic headwinds. They are different types of companies doing different types of things, they are affected by different conditions. And yet, they are circling around a want to build an even more focused, high-performance team and culture. They want to move faster, be better, and this feels like the right intention.

A CEO client today told me that she has received some feedback that what she considers a more directive approach to some company issues is feeling disempowering. She asked if we could work through that issue together. We did. We spent a lot of time talking about where she’s being directive, how she’s being directive, and why. We talked about the context of our 1.5-year coaching engagement and how hard she has worked on being more direct even when doing so may come at a perceived charge to her likeability. I expressed a bit of delight that she, a highly consensus-driven leader, was even getting feedback like this. Obviously there is a limit to directness, but the feedback showed she’s doing her work even if it’s time to recalibrate.

Then a question popped into my head, and I asked her: “How are the high performers reacting to your direction right now?”

Cue that popping sound and the hand to forehead (figuratively…for both of us). Wow.

She reported that those high performers are happy as clams, moving right along in alignment with the vision she’s charting.

That really struck me. I encourage all of my clients to get more feedback on the daily. I love that she is getting this insight. But I advise leaders to take the feedback that feels valuable (after doing a lot of processing) and leave the rest behind. It’s not that feedback from lower performers doesn’t matter; it’s just that if this CEO is going to redesign her current approach, I want her to do the redesign based primarily on feedback from her top performers.

It feels ridiculously simple: if you want to create a higher-performing culture, focus most on input, perceptions, insights from your top performers. It’s as obvious as drinking a V8 in 1978. More obvious. I always thought that drink was pretty gross.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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