The Secret to Creating a High Performance Culture: People, Progress & Partnerships

The Secret to Creating a High Performance Culture: People, Progress & Partnerships

By: Lorna Donatone
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - 10:15am


What accounts for the difference between companies that can hit the ball out of the park and those that are merely staying in the game?  According to Swiss research and consulting firm Egon Zehnder a handful of companies enjoy superior growth and profitability because they maintain a high performance culture that drives vision, purpose, action and results.  Encouraging an organizational culture to thrive begins with openness, honesty and transparency. Everyone needs to feel a sense of inclusion and understand how their ideas and contributions positively impact organizational outcomes.

Fostering a strong culture is vital because it acts as the “central operating system” for an organization. It guides the business, holds leadership accountable and gives employees a roadmap for what’s expected of them. I wrote about building a high performance culture in a recent edition of Diplomatic Courier, and I’ll summarize the key points here.

To build a high performance culture that leads to sustainable growth, there are three components to consider.

  • People (Workforce Development)
  • Progress (Innovation, Ideas & Opportunities)
  • Partnerships (Creating Shared Value)


Higher performance is driven by identifying, developing and retaining the best talent. A recent case study featured in the Ivey Business Journal, found that employees at a U.S.-based mortgage banking company who are actively engaged outperform the competition by 20 percent. Simply put, your people are the straightest line to creating a high performance culture.

  • Identify Talent: Skill-set is just part of selecting the right talent – attitude, personality, ambition and integrity are perhaps even more important assets because they cannot be taught.
  • Support development: The better educated a workforce is, the more likely they will deliver increased organizational success.
  • Retain the best people: Employees need to feel their contributions are being acknowledged, appreciated and are adding to the company’s success.


Progress is the means by which an organization moves toward its ambition. Worldwide, 2015 research and development spending by the Global Innovation 1000 companies — the 1,000 public corporations worldwide that spent the most on researching and developing products and services — rose more than  five percent to nearly $700 billion, the strongest increase in the last three years. But how do companies deliver tangible, viable progress? Through innovation, ideas and opportunities.

  • Innovation: Companies like 3M and Google consider innovation so important to their business that they require employees to dedicate 10 percent of their time to exploration and experimentation.
  • Ideas: Whether it is the little ideas that pop up to address everyday challenges or the ‘next big idea’, high performance cultures share the characteristic of supporting idea generation at every level.
  • Opportunities: The best opportunities don’t always knock. High performance culture businesses don’t wait for things to happen, they make things happen.


Very few opportunities in business today offer as much benefit as strategic partnerships with the nonprofit, education or government sectors. Organizations that make giving back to the communities where they live, work and serve a priority reap many rewards including increased sales, enhanced employee engagement, brand loyalty, relationship development and meaningful team building.  A 2014 Nielsen Study found that 42 percent of participants reported they would pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. High performance culture organizations understand that what is good for the local community is also good for business

In summary, cultures based on high performance inspire employees to assume success – to look for and create opportunities, anticipate needs, be informed and get involved, identify solutions and strive for excellence, even when no one is looking. Creating and maintaining a high performance culture is certainly not easy – but can you really afford not to?

Have you had experiences building or working in a high performance culture?  Please share them in the comments below.


Lorna Donatone is the CEO of Sodexo Schools Worldwide and President of Sodexo North America.  Ms. Donatone was honored with the 2015 Trailblazer Award from the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Chairs the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation.  She is on the Board of Directors of Jamba Juice, is a trustee of the Culinary Institute of America, serves on the Tulane Business School Council and Chairs the TCU Business School Board.