High performance, innovation and simplicity

We do a lot of research into high performance organisations and I am often asked what makes the best companies stand out. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • High performance companies work simply. That means doing things once and always with a very clear focus on the customer. In companies where people work simply, they’re trusted to make decisions and encouraged to speak up when they see things that can be improved. “Simple” also requires discipline, the ability to prioritise critical tasks and to cut out the rest.
  • Innovation fuels success. Innovation can sound soft, but it’s really about transformation. I like Adam Hartung’s approach to innovation – a constant battle against old ways of working that become “locked in”. So much energy is spent defending the status quo. Effective leaders give people permission to challenge the way things are done. The best leaders actually spend time plotting how to create disruptions.
  • I visit a lot of different work places and what makes an effective manager is nearly always the same. They’re good at getting to know the people in their team and to learn their strengths. They’re interested in developing people, they recognise when things go well and they help people understand how the business works and how they contribute through their job. High performance depends on having more effective managers.
  • In many companies leaders spend a lot of time looking back – reviewing last year’s numbers in order to determine next year’s plans. The insights we collect from employees through our surveys give leaders a chance to look forward, to identify future opportunities and to think about their future workforce. That kind of forward-looking exercise is another hallmark of success, especially as there is so much change happening in the workplace.

These are some of the key things that I have seen. What would be on your list?

Towers Watson, Tracking Trends in High Performance Companies (2014)
Adam Hartung, Create Marketplace Disruption (FT Press, 2008)

Tags: #Innovation #HighPerformance

This article was published on LinkedIn on  December 3, 2015.


  1. “insights we collect from employees through our surveys give leaders” … As we hear from our management consultancies/ partners. This practice of gathering subjective and structured feedback via surveys, interviews and focus groups has been the same for years. Keen to hear less guess work on this topic and more concrete facts from tapping into unstructured company data sources. This article is exactly what former Google Cloud Global Partnerships Dir Thomas Davies highlights frequently. He is CEO and Founder of Temporall. It would be great to connect!

    1. Thanks Thomas. I love tools like Temporall. I think the combination of interaction analytics like this + employee insights is esp. powerful and I talk a lot about this kind of triangulation of data in my book.

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