“High Performance Culture” Audits

Sep 30, 2019

By: David Childs, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer

The Organization Whisperer (www.theorganizationwhispere4.com


During my 35 year career leading City and County organizations (the County Clerk’s Office, County Tax Office and County DMV in Dallas and the City Tax Office in El Paso), I introduced “high performance cultures”.  Each of these efforts resulted in the Agencies producing more services within the same budget or, occasionally, voluntary budget and staff reductions.

Specifically, measureable performance (production per staff person, task process time, error rates, attendance, etc.) improved by roughly 20% while staff needs reduced by 20%. In addition, both staff and customer satisfaction significantly improved.  These results were achieved in Agencies that were challenged by booming population demands, increased mandates, and health care and I.T. budget pressures. Despite these challenges, production per staff member increased, need for staff decreased, customer satisfaction significantly improved (fewer complaints, more ‘thank you’s’, etc.), and during my 35 year career, my Agencies experienced an average annual gross budget increase of 3.1% while comparable Agencies averaged annual budget increased of 12.4%

In brief, “high performance culture” philosophy in communities means that they are 1) hiring self-motivated, positive personalities, 2) prioritizing focus on achieving a core, inspirational mission, and 3) measuring achievement of individual and organizational performance goals, thereby creating a “high performing organizational culture”.

Just a few years ago Gallup conducted an international study of over 2,000 organizations and concluded that organizations with a high performance culture experience: 1) 22.5% improved productivity, 2) 19% improved staff stability, and 3) long-term sustained annual improvement of 5% per year; my personal career experience is compatible with these findings.  The cities of Coral Springs, Florida (2007), Irving, Texas (2012), and Fort Collins, Colorado (2017) are the only cities to receive a prestigious national award for Quality; all three cities had implemented high performance cultures.

During my career, I constantly tried, tested, fine-tuned, focused and concentrated the recommendations of high performance culture philosophy into a few focused, concentrated, targeted core issues and specific ‘real world’ actions that will rapidly transition an organization into a high performance culture, and also quickly produce results and savings.  These “First 10 Questions to Ask” when implementing a high performance culture can be used either by the organization as an internal strategic plan, or externally by Budget Offices and/or Auditors to conduct high performance culture audits on organizations.

NOTE: This blog will now discuss the first 4 of the 10 questions.  The next blog will discuss questions #5-10.

I like to refer to the first question (“how positive is the organization’s environment and communications?”) as the ‘break room’ question.  Anyone can enter an agency’s break room and, within 10 minutes, determine whether the culture is healthy. In mediocre/poor agencies, there is little talk or negative gossip and complaining.  In healthy agencies there is laughter, camaraderie and discussion about having helped a customer or completing a task or resolving a challenge or planning an office party.

The 2nd, 2-part, question (“Who are your organization’s top 5 most valued contributors?” add “what criteria did you use to determine value?”) reveals whether the agency’s leadership has established a clear, understood, documented, professional organizational value system (attendance, production, error rates, customer compliments, learning new tasks, etc.) and monitors staff performance based on those values; or whether staff is rated on the basis of personal perceptions, gossip and office politics.  (As this discussion continues, it will be noted that the words “professional and positive” are central to describing high performing cultures while the words “personal and negative” are core indicators of poor/mediocre cultures.)

The 3rd, 2-part, question (“Who are the 3-5 current staff who are being developed for future leadership? and Will they be an improvement over current leadership?”) builds on the 2nd question; does succession planning even exist and, if so, has it been based upon valid, documented, professional criteria or upon perception, rumor and ‘kissing up’.  The 2nd part strikes at whether the agency is constantly growing and improving; is it a learning organization; has its next generation been nurtured and developed into being superior to the current generation?

Next we ask, “How inspiring and motivational is your agency’s Mission statement?”  Is there a Mission statement? If so, does anyone know what it is? Does the staff get up every morning saying “Oh boy, today I get to save the world?” One of the finest Missions that I have heard was a school’s Mission of “We plant human seeds”.  In a profession that can and often does feel routine and robotic to the staff, this Mission clearly and simply but inspirationally reminds staff that what they are doing, every day, is extremely important, and is about real children not bureaucracy, red tape and paperwork, and that what they do is a critical contributor to society.

More to come in just two weeks, In this space.