Archive for February, 2015

Building a High Performance Culture Part XVIII

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

A word that works: “Prune”

In this eighteenth post on building a high performance culture I want to put in the “words that work” column a word normally associated with gardening, but whose applications for improving an organization’s culture abound; prune.

I’ll expand on how pruning benefits culture momentarily, but to review the portrait of high performing cultures this series has presented take a moment to review both what must be woven into, and weeded out of, a culture to create optimal performance:

Words that work and must be woven into culture

Earn: to acquire through merit.

Deserve: to be worthy of; to qualify for.

Consistent: constantly adhering to the same principles.

Hope: grounds for believing something in the future will happen.

Catalyst: a person or thing that makes something happen.

Responsible: to be the primary cause of something.

Tough-minded: strong willed, vigorous, not easily swayed.

Loyal: faithfulness to one’s duties or obligations.

Passion: a strong feeling or enthusiasm about something, or about doing something.

Discipline: an activity, regimen, or exercise that develops or improves a habit or skill.

Commit: to pledge oneself to something.

Words that hurt and must be weeded out of culture

Fault: responsibility for failure.

Blame: to assign responsibility for failure.

Excuse: a plea offered to explain away a fault or failure.

Mediocre: average, ordinary, not outstanding.

Wish: to want something that cannot, or probably will not happen.

Entitle: a claim to something you feel you are owed.

Sloth: reluctance to work or exert effort; laziness.

Complacent: calmly content, smugly self-satisfied.

Maintain: to cause (something) to exist or continue without changing.

Apathy: a lack of enthusiasm, interest or concern.

Interest: to be curious about (as opposed to being committed).

To prune is defined as: to remove what is undesirable. When pruning a bush, less than optimal branches and buds are removed so they no longer zap vital resources from those with the potential to become great. If left on a bush, the dying or dead branches create a visual blight, and cause the healthy branches to go over, under, and around their interference in order to reach their peak form.

In business a candidate for pruning—what is undesirable and needing to be removed somewhat, or altogether—may range from ineffective or underperforming:

  • Policies
  • Processes
  • Strategies
  • Vendors
  • People
  • Products
  • Services
  • Investment dollars
  • And more.

Unlike a sick branch, you don’t automatically remove the listed underperforming entities in organizational culture. Rather, there are three categories of pruning each may fit into.  Understanding these three options creates a useful decision-making filter that allows you to make the right choices to build a high performing culture.

Category one: the entities that are good, but have little chance of becoming great. These are normally areas where, regardless of what you put into someone or something, you reap a diminishing return. Since it is good you don’t remove it, but realign time or resources into the aspects of your culture that have a chance to become great. The key word here is: realign.

Example: A solid performer you want on the team; but regardless how much time or training you give them they still produce around the same amount. You’ll need to realign some of what you’re investing in this person into someone who has higher upward potential.

Category two: entities that are struggling and not getting better. These are policies, people, strategies and the like where business as usual is not an option; something must change. You’re not ready to remove it yet, but you need to revitalize it.

Example: A marketing strategy that used to bring results but seems to have run its course. You’re close to abandoning it, but will try one new angle, a new medium, a new something to attempt to revive it. It could also involve a poor performer whom you’re close to terminating, but will try one last time to revitalize through training, or by transferring to a position they’re better suited for.

Category three: entities for which there are no hope. On a bush, this would be the branch that has died and is taking up space. In business this is someone or something you’ve tried to realign and revitalize, but you’re still not getting the desired results. This aspect of pruning mandates that it’s time to remove it.

Example: The performer that, despite your efforts to coach, motivate, and train continues to miss your standards. It could also be a product or product line that has outlived its usefulness; no marketing campaign has been able to save it. It’s time for it to go.

By realigning, revitalizing or removing what isn’t desirable, you are able to efficiently execute the disciplines within your culture that increase your success. Pruning is a key ally to leaders who understand that mediocrity is a dangerously seductive cultural infection; and unless they act on it their culture will become a host and carrier of its disease.