A Performance Culture…Don’t we already have that?

Why does culture matter, and what exactly is it?

Many companies today are so focused on their product and customers that thoughtful management of employee culture falls by the wayside. Despite this lack of attention, those same companies will often assert that their culture is one based on high performance. How is that possible? Performance cultures don’t grow organically, they take thought, planning, and care. Does your company walk the walk or just talk the talk?

According to a BI Worldwide survey, 55% of employees who self-identified as unhappy in their jobs said that they would still be willing to work hard to please their company’s customers. Although this is not a drastically low number, the percentage grew to 87% amongst employees who were happiest in their jobs. The notion that engaged employees are more likely to improve customer relations is also supported by the findings of a 2017 Gallup report. The report went on to add that this behaviour could result in a 20% increase in sales. These findings are illustrative of the value of employee engagement within a well-managed company culture.

“Company culture is a collection of well-established values and habits in the organization that dictate how the company functions. It is strongly influenced and driven by senior leadership.”

David Burnie, Founder and Principal of the Burnie Group

High-performing employees are engaged in their work. They are aware of and encouraged by their performance record. They also have a strong working relationship with both their peers and managers, and a clear understanding of their department or team’s purpose. Realizing these workplace attitudes is just one of the ways in which your company culture can go from low-pace to high-performance.


Corporate culture: Low pace versus high performance.

Corporate cultures can vary greatly from business to business. Some emphasize a more traditional, low-pace culture, whereas some recognize the benefits of adopting a high-performance culture.

A high-performance organization is not afraid to try new things. These companies are often early adopters of innovative new technologies. However, they achieve their business goals not only by looking to the newest technologies but by looking at what they can do to improve employee performance through adjustments to company culture. A workplace that allows for seamless collaboration, access to necessary tools, and staff empowerment is a high-performance organization, with satisfied employees and customers alike.

Low-pace corporate culture

High-performing culture

Lack of staff enablement

  • Lack of trust in staff decision making.
  • Staff have little access to necessary tools and skills.


Staff are truly enabled

  • Staff can make decisions within defined limits.
  • Staff can easily access necessary tools and skills.
  • Staff are motivated to make the right decisions.
Failure is unacceptable

  • Staff are afraid to make mistakes.
  • Staff are not encouraged or motivated to try new things.



Failures is seen as part of the learning process

  • Management sees mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Staff are expected to learn from mistakes.
  • Staff are not reprimanded for mistakes made while trying new methods.
Tenure is used to support advancement

  • Only the highest-producing employees are promoted.
  • Limited leadership skills and formal management training.
Staff are advanced based on merit and ability

  • Staff are motivated to develop their abilities.
  • There is a sense of “fair” recognition.


Productivity is evaluated by a direct supervisor

  • Subjectivity is highly prevalent.
  • Limited or no objective data to evaluate performance.



Staff are assessed using accessible, and trackable performance data

  • Staff performance is evaluated without bias.
  • Leaders can act quickly when performance is subpar.
  • Leaders are equipped with data to effectively discuss group performance and provide due credit to individual employees.
Training and coaching are not top priorities

  • Rigid standardized
  • Little specialized coaching or training for staff members.
  • Training sacrificed in favor of other priorities.



Capable and skilled staff is an organizational priority

  • Comprehensive initial and regular training on relevant themes.
  • Personalized training and coaching where needed.
  • Encouragement of career and skills development.
  • Support of personal development through direct managers. This could include access to resources or actionable feedback.
Lack of transparency during execution

  • Managers only see the final output. There is no established method for them to influence the result during the process.
  • Limited opportunity to instruct staff on process topics due to lack of process visibility.
Full transparency into each process stage

  • Managers have a line of sight into staff capabilities as well as the status of each process.
  • Managers can identify areas of inefficiency and provide staff with the coaching necessary to make improvements.


The Burnie Group Case Study on Culture Change

Recently, The Burnie Group assisted one of the largest North American workforce management (WFM) software providers in implementing a plan to overhaul its organizational culture. The project involved the design, introduction, and institutionalization of a new, high-performance company culture. To achieve these steps, the following goals were identified:

  1. Increase collaboration across all groups.
  2. Build higher performing teams.
  3. Make group performance more transparent.
  4. Increase support for coaching.
  5. Facilitate one-on-one conversations between managers and staff.

The results of the implementation were immediately evident. The sales teams, for instance, became more knowledgeable of the innovations created by the development team, thanks to increased best-practice sharing and knowledge transference. Facilitation of coaching and one-on-one conversations ensured that all team members were aware of group priorities, resulting in targets being met more often. Attentive change management resulted in the accomplishment of these project goals.

How did The Burnie Group help to accomplish these goals?




  • Collaboration and communication between groups were poor and highly isolated.
  • Expertise was concentrated in certain groups and was not shared with others. This reduced the efficiency and efficacy of staff.
  • Collaborative meetings, like “lunch and learns,” were firmly ingrained into the new culture.
  • Groups now routinely meet to share learnings across the organization so that no one group holds all the relevant information and updates.
Clear Targets and Accountability
  • It was difficult for employees to ascertain if a group was or was not meeting organizational This lack of understanding was rarely addressed.
  • Through daily discussions around the visual control boards, it was discovered that standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not in place in several areas, resulting in uncertainty, inefficiency, and lost time.
  • A well-defined set of key performance indicators (KPIs) was decided on and used to determine progress.
  • Progress was discussed daily at visual control boards and team huddles.
  • SOPs were designed and deployed to clarify expectations and increase consistency.
  • Coaching sessions and one-on-one conversations were often seen as negative events and were rarely scheduled.
  • An agenda was developed to help managers direct conversation. It included topics like performance metrics, escalations and issues, and career development.
  • Regular touch points are now scheduled between managers and staff. Such conversations are no longer seen as negative in nature.


How to begin your own company culture transformation

While large-scale cultural shift programs can yield impressive results, proper planning is paramount to successfully changing company culture. Below are some ways in which you prepare your organization for a successful transformation.

  1. Take time to plan your program
  • –  What level of rigour can your staff handle, given the current and projected workloads and service level agreements?
  • –  How will you deliver learnings and materials? This can be challenging for companies with distributed workforces.
  1. Communication matters: plan your messaging
  • –   How will you frame the reasons for this change?
  • –   Who will become the face of change?
  • –   How frequently will communications be issued?
  • –   How can you ensure communications are understood?
  1. Form the ‘right’ team
  • –  Form a team to conduct the day-to-day work that comes with a large-scale cultural shift. These responsibilities may range from managing communications to following up with complaints.
  • –  Define team roles and responsibilities.
  • –  Establish a shared understanding of the process and a clear vision of the end state.
  • –  Facilitate clear lines of communication between team members and senior
  1. Be prepared for pushback
  • –  Have a management plan for potential dissent.
  • –  Address concerns and incorporate concerns into solutions.
  1. Involve senior leadership
  • – Ensure senior leadership is heavily and visibly involved in the process.
  • – Ensure all leaders have a common understanding of the opportunity, the desired outcome, and the rollout method.
  • – Have leaders clearly communicate project expectations with the staff.
  • – Encourage leaders set expectations of behaviour and lead by example.
  • – Have leaders be vocal proponents of the change, communicating the organization’s reasons for making the
  • – Establish effective methods of top-down communication to assist staff in the prioritization of tasks.
  1. Identify and empower Change Agents
  • –  Enlist people who are resourceful and eager for change.
  • –  Ensure roles and responsibilities are clearly
  • –  Empower agents to be positive ambassadors for the change.
  • –  Ensure agents have frequent touch points with each other and with the project management team to keep messaging and priorities aligned.
  1. Manage for desired results
  • –  Adjust current SOPs, KIPs, or incentives as needed to fit the new company culture.
  • –  Measure results of the project using data to ensure the identified opportunity has been correctly addressed.
  • –  Make metrics visible to publicize positive effects of the project.

We hope that these ideas and insights will inform your future company culture transformation. Although there will always be challenges implementing a pervasive change, having a set plan for communications, timelines, and staff responsibilities, increases the level of transitional success. If you are interested in learning more, our project leaders are ready to share their extensive experience and insights with you.



 By: Shane Nightingale, Associate