August 26, 2022

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #133 – Protect Your Organization Against Rogue Waves Part 1

By Rob Andrews

By Rob Andrews with paraphrased content from Getabstract’ s summary of Jonathan Brill’s book Rogue Waves

According to Brill, even the grandest sea vessels can fall victim to rogue waves. Your business, likewise, may sail along unimpeded for years before an unexpected crisis arises and washes over you, destroying everything you’ve built. In an increasingly unpredictable world of economic uncertainty, pandemics, political volatility, and social activism, you must understand how to navigate inevitable waves of change to protect your company’s well-being.

Traditional business philosophies, such as Competitive Strategy and the Blue Ocean, no longer suffice. Today’s executives must prepare for unanticipated events that alter the landscape. To illustrate, eight of the top ten publicly traded American companies neglected to list pandemics as a risk factor in their SEC paperwork. Only Apple and CVS were smart enough to do so.

Organizations’ underlying assumptions often fall apart when the going gets tough. Never assume, for example, that short-term value guarantees long-term security. Traditional thinking holds that organizations adjust from within, but modern-day circumstances demand that companies look outward for solutions. Businesses must detect modest shifts that could snowball into market-changing forces.

“Observe your system” – Fix your model’s flaws to avoid potential chaos.

It is critically important that you measure what matters, starting with your culture. A high-performance culture is, after all, your only sustainable competitive advantage and is extremely perishable. If you don’t measure it, you can’t predict it, and you can’t manage it. Consider these 9 principles that enable the highest performing organizations on the planet to consistently outperform their peers:

  1. Peak Performance Mindset: Senior leaders and entire organizations have mindsets. In most cases individual and collective mindsets include limiting beliefs embedded in the subconscious. A peak performance leader is one who has been trained to identify their limiting beliefs and has replaced most of them with enabling beliefs. Leaders and organizations that think this way routinely accomplish what most consider impossible. This is solid neuroscience and can be accomplished by most organizations. Peak performance leaders never take success for granted, and always push for improvement. 88% of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are extinct. Arrogance, inaction, and unawareness are three of the biggest killers of modern-day businesses. Once an organization’s leaders think they have arrived, they have begun their decline. Global business is moving and changing at a dizzying rate and all who do not pay close attention run the risk of extinction.
  2. Disciplined Hiring Practices: Hiring practices worldwide at every level are broken. Following proven, time and battletested ForesightTM hiring processes at every level ensure screening out B and C players in favor of A players, and aligning the right players around cultural fit, personal and professional attributes and performance expectations than enable peak performance. Disciplined Hiring begins with your employment brand, which drives your candidate funnel, determines how you engage candidates, assess them for culture fit and performance, onboard them, put them on a career track, train, develop and reward them. It’s a holistic approach that can be measured.
  3. Unified Leadership: Most leadership teams are not teams at all, rather a collection of individuals who often compete for position, airtime, and resources. A peak-performing team is actually a team of teams, from top to bottom, where trust, healthy debate, shared vision, accountability, and results orientation exist to achieve a culture of peak performance. Transforming a group of talented individuals into a unified team takes work, process, patience, and commitment. The results are well worth the effort. Unified leadership can also be measured and manifests itself on the front lines. When middle managers and front-line employees are aligned with senior leaders, they can recite chapter and verse what the leadership team is up to, how they fit in, and what’s in it for them.
  4. Leading with Purpose: Less than 5% of organizations operate with a clear sense of purpose, making full engagement of the workforce and all stakeholder groups impossible. Harnessing the power of purpose makes inspiring stakeholders and delivering exceptional returns possible. Purpose driven companies like QuikTrip, Southwest Airlines, H-E-B, Raley’s, and Nordstrom engage their workforces, especially millennials, with a purpose greater than just making money. One powerful example of the power of purpose is Alcoholics Anonymous, which serves over 2.5 million members on every continent, with wildly different socioeconomic, ethnic, political, and generational backgrounds. AA has no corporate hierarchy, and yet it runs like a finely tuned Swiss watch. People who would not otherwise mix are united with a common purpose, to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  5. Stakeholder Engagement: It is impossible to achieve peak performance without engaging all stakeholders. Fulfilled, collaborative employees who are committed to a great customer experience and achieving the company’s objectives need the support of management, shareholders, and service providers. Pre pandemic, Gallup reports the American and Global workforces are 66% and 85% disengaged, respectively. The best performing organizations in the world deliver a great employee experience and have all their employees working hard towards the organization’s objectives. The right values, vision, mission, strategy, and big, hairy audacious goals are necessary for stakeholder engagement.
  6. Clarity in Everything: Stakeholders understand the company’s strategy, know where the organization is going, how it will get there, and their role in making it happen. Clarity is necessary to engage all your stakeholders, including your providers and customers. In organizations with great clarity, communications are delivered so constituents believe that their leaders know where they are going, believe what they are saying, and are connecting effectively with their needs and desires. Achieving organizational clarity requires the right mindset and a formula for communicating through layers of management and to remote offices and employees.
  7. Customer Experience: World-class customer experience must be engineered deliberately. Delivering a great customer experience, so compelling that customers tell stories and evangelize for the organization is key. It is about relentless customer commitment, anticipating their needs, and creating raving fans. It is not about reducing defects and it is not just good customer service. An important distinction is that is has less to do with how your customer feels about you or our brand and more to do with how they feel about themselves while interacting with you. It’s emotional and subconscious. Organizations that deliver a consistently compelling customer experience don’t leave things to chance.
  8. Measure What Matters: Measuring what matters requires measuring all the critical elements of peak performance, such as financial metrics, leadership effectiveness, employee engagement, and customer delight. Optimizing shareholder returns requires more than reading financial statements, which are largely backward looking. The quantitative bias promoted by modern day business methods and schools often misses the most important metrics. Measuring the overall health of your culture is one of the most important metrics and one of the most often overlooked. Spending time to develop the right measurement systems to assess the health of your stakeholder relationships is every bit as important as your financials. Leaders today are inundated with data. Take care to focus on the most important metrics. If everything is important, nothing is.
  9. Cost Leadership: Remove it where the customer can not feel it. Peak performers remove as much cost as possible, being very careful not to affect the customer and employee experiences. Southwest Airlines, H-E-B, QuikTrip, and Koch Industries do it extremely well by removing costs from supply chain, building costs, and employee turnover. Top performing companies do not take cost out of the business by removing service and benefits from customers and stakeholders. True cost leadership requires an industrial engineering mindset and a process driven by purpose, mission, vision, values, and strategy.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Rogue Waves next week when explore the rest of Jonathan Brill’s observations around rouge waves. If you would like a thought partner, we’d love to hear from you.


Rob Andrews
Allen Austin
Consultants in Retained Search & Leadership Advisory