7 Actions That Drive Sustainable High Performance

There’s always room to improve performance.

These talent practices can help companies consistently meet or exceed strategic business objectives over time, a condition called sustainable high performance.

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  1. Review and adapt: The alignment and integration of business strategy, organization design, and talent should be routinely reviewed and adapted as appropriate. At a minimum this should be done at Board meetings and during executive business reviews. It should be done more often if the pace or scale of change warrant.
  2. Focus intensely on building critical capabilities: Identify, measure, and close critical strategic capability gaps.
  3. Remove obstacles: Identify and fix situations where top talent are blocked from advancement opportunities. Blockers are employees who have occupied a position for a long time and are no longer developing in the role. This limits the number of developmental jobs available. Assuming effective performance management practices, blockers are at least solid performers and care should be taken to move them into new roles that will allow them to further grow and develop.
  4. Prime the pump: It isn’t a natural impulse for most leaders to give up their top talent, especially if they don’t have a ready successor. Recognize and reward leaders who let go of top talent at the right time, and who develop and export top talent consistently.
  5. Invest disproportionately: Invest more time, money and other resources on individuals who create the most value.
  6. Apply rigor to identify, calibrate, and accelerate development: Expose top talent to a mix of assignments and experiences that give them a big picture view, the latitude to contribute innovative ideas, and a heavy dose of interaction with company executives and board members.
  7. Ask the right questions often: Make a habit of regularly asking questions like the ones below at talent reviews, staff meetings, executive offsites, board meetings, town halls, training events, exit interviews, etc. Doing so will reinforce your commitment to talent management and you’ll also gather actionable data and insights that help you to accurately diagnose and take actions that will drive consistent high performance.
    • Why do people join our organization? Stay? Leave?
    • What is our culture? Does it fit with what we say it is?
    • Are our best leaders in the most critical jobs?
    • Do we have enough backups and pipeline for our critical positions? Top talent?
    • Are solid retention plans in place for our top talent?

What actions would you add to this list?=

David Jardin is a consultant with the iTM System Group where he works with leaders and teams to make talent management simple, practical, and profitable. He began his career as a CPA and has spent more than 20 years in leadership roles in talent management and organization development with global companies including Citigroup, Coopers & Lybrand, Pfizer, and Tyco Electronics. Contact him at davidjardin@mac.com.


16 Comments on “7 Actions That Drive Sustainable High Performance

  1. Good tips. Truly understanding what is causing poor performance or unhappiness can do wonders. This needs to go beyond the management level, though. You need to be talking to your employees often, asking the right questions, and evaluating what is dampening their capabilities. From this point, you can switch up the way you manage your workers and help your employees to boost their performance.

  2. Great article, David. I especially liked the section on blockers. Handled correctly, two individuals can benefit, the blocker and the rising star who is given an opportunity. One of the challenges, I believe, is that there are a limited number of senior positions. An alternative is to put rising stars into special projects and other interim assignments which will give them exposure to senior leaders in their own or other parts of the organization.

    1. Thanks for commenting Ed. I like your notion that removing blockers, when done properly, can have positive effects on both affected individuals.

  3. Nice job explaining steps for developing sustainable high performance for top talent. Investing in the value of a company’s top talent will accelerate the company’s growth. It is high impact ROI.

  4. Nice article David, Nice to see a list that makes sense, drives talent management and is about what “to do” rather than another horror stories or things to avoid list

    1. Thanks for commenting Jeff. Now, if we can figure out a way to incorporate your expertise in ROI measurement and build effectiveness and impact metrics around the actions then we’d really have something to drive sustainable high performance.

  5. David
    Numbers 1 and 7 are most important for a company to stay ahead and sustain high performance. It makes them proactive rather than reactive. They are especially important as the economy improves and there are more opportunities for high performing talent to jump ship. I believe those people will stay more often if they believe their company was interested in their development on an ongoing basis. Nice job.
    Suzanne Kaplan

    1. Thanks for commenting Suzanne. Well stated. If the org design and talent aren’t aligned with the strategy it’s hard to convince people that the company’s plans for their development and fulfillment have been well-thought out or are important.

  6. David

    As always, insightful stuff! Agree w/ others on importance of 1 and 7.
    If I may, as Mr. Simplicity, also emphasize the importance of 3. Most corporate systems suck! They’re mostly corporate-centered (making things easier for the company) and not user-centered (making things easier for each individual performer). Even if one could have 100% high performers, most corporate systems still shoot those performers in the foot!

    1. Thanks Bill! You’re so right about systems being corporate-centered. Bad systems reduce productivity and engagement. As you’ve pointed out before, absent system improvements, it’s only going to get worse as more tech-savvy, well-networked Millennials enter the workforce.

  7. David,
    Great list! All 7 actions have proven to be essential in my past experience.
    One uncommon action that I believe can leverage the others for additional impact is to operate across 3 time windows: 1) the immediate annual operating plan, 2) 3 years out, and 3) 5+ years out.
    Similar to managing the 3 profit time horizons; the above approach results in a sustainable pipeline of strategies to address business challenges and meet objectives. It helps the ITM group become proactive and integrate within the business.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Your multiple time window approach definitely sets the stage for sustainable high performance. It increases the likelihood that leaders will anticipate future challenges and opportunities and position the organization to win consistently over time.

  8. David –

    Love the article and the direction. How about a follow-up article with best practices and/or business examples that model each action. For example, how do companies design discussions that align business strategy, organization development, and talent? How are organizations measuring strategic capability gaps? What is an illustration of talent that has been ‘primed’ and resulted in enhanced performance?

    Your ideas could lead to a useful tool kit for many managers.

    Keep the ideas coming! Shana

    1. Thanks for commenting Shana. I really like your ideas and will follow through with additional articles to expand on the actions.

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