The High Performance Organization: Does Your Organization Measure Up?

More and more organizations express their drive in annual reports, adverts and websites to turn into a High Performance Organization (HPO). But what does ‘becoming an HPO’ really mean? What are all those ambitious organizations talk about?

Here at the HPO Center, we define a High Performance Organization as follows:

A High Performance Organization is an organization that achieves financial and non-financial results that are exceedingly better than those of its peer group over a period of time of five years or more, by focusing in a disciplined way on that what really matters to the organization.”

How does your firm measure up to this definition? If you’re not sure, let’s pick apart this definition so you can know where you stand.

What makes an HPO?

High performance is relative — that is, performance can only be denoted as “high” when compared to a peer group comprised of competitors in the case of for-profit companies, or comparable organizations in the case of non-profits or governmental agencies.

If your organization has obtained results that have exceeded your peer group or comparable organizations for a period of only four years or less, you still have not achieved HPO status. You have one more exceptional year to go!

High performance is characterized by sustainable good results over a prolonged period of time of five years or more. That way, we can know that a firm has not performed well merely because it was lucky but because it has been doing the right things again and again and again.

It’s been estimated by many analysts that the life span of the typical organization today is approximately 12½ years, a time period continually going down. Thus an organization that performs much better than its competitors for five years or more has exhibited its HPO ability for almost half of its expected life span of a normal organization.

Recent research shows it’s very difficult for organizations to achieve consistent growth, even at modest rates. But case studies in my new book, What Makes a High Performance Organization, reveal that true HPOs know what makes them highly successful over time.

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HPO’s maintain their discipline

HPOs exhibit the discipline not to be distracted by the newest management fad and to continue doing what made them successful in the first place, e.g., processes, systems, behavior. They expend great effort to ensure that their processes, systems and behavior will continuously see improvement. They typically will only initiate something different if they perceive an opportunity to strengthen their core capabilities and competences.

Deviating from this path they know could spell trouble in the form of declining performance. Thus HPO managements are keen to maintain their discipline.

A client once said in an interview about HPO:

Just because a world-class skater or cyclist is in good shape does not mean they cannot perform even better. Top athletes also need regular check-ups with a sports doctor, who gives them condition tests, checks their vitals and examines their training schedule. We also make sure our organization undergoes regular check-ups by an external party to determine where improvements can be made.”

So how does your firm measure up? Have you maintained five years or more of HPO status? Or does my definition make you wonder if you are on the right path? To obtain an answer find out what your HPO Score is on all 35 HPO characteristics!

André de Waal, PhD, MBA, MSc, is Academic Director of the HPO Center, an organization which conducts research into high performance organizations. He is also Associate Professor of High Performance Organizations at the Maastricht School of Management, guest lecturer at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam, and visiting fellow at Cranfield University (United Kingdom).

André has conducted several years of scientific research, examining 290 international studies and analyzing studies in 50 countries involving over 1,470 profit, non-profit and government organizations.


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