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A High Performance Culture Starts with a Clear Performance Framework

July 25, 2017 • By Ken Gibson

Most business leaders are in constant search of higher performance. They set targets for...well...pretty much everything, in the hope of raising the commitment and engagement level of their employees.  They try to recruit the best talent available.  They upgrade their technology to create greater efficiency and productivity.  They institute training programs and provide a physical environment that they hope will encourage innovation and creativity.  They provide flexible work schedules and a multitude of perks to ensure their people have every opportunity to excel in their roles.  However, too often those efforts fall short because they don’t construct the proper framework to hold all of those pieces together. 

Cultureiq defines a high performance culture as “a set of behaviors and norms that leads an organization to achieve superior financial and non-financial (e.g. retaining top talent, customer reviews, etc.) results. In other words, a high-performance culture is a culture that drives a high-performance organization, which according to Cornell ILR School, is a company that achieves better financial and non-financial results than those of their peers over a long period of time.”  For those behaviors and norms to sink deep into an organization,  there has to be clarity of thought about how performance is defined in key areas of the business that work interdependently to form a construct of sustained success.  At VisionLink, we refer to this as a Performance Framework. 

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What is a Performance Framework?

A Performance Framework is made up of three areas of performance focus: The Business Framework, The Compensation Framework and the Talent Framework.  These are separate but connected parts—like connective tissue in your body.  Any chief executive expecting to assume control of his or her company’s growth destiny in today's business environment must ensure that each element of the overall framework is working properly and that it is effectively linked to the other two.

Given what is at stake, you should become familiar with what’s required in each of these three areas.  So let’s examine each more closely.

Business Framework

In this first category, enterprise leaders must envision the future company, define its revenue engine and standards and then identify the roles needed to execute that strategy and business model. This analysis should include the following:

1. Define the company’s growth expectations (vision). Here you will want to clearly express key outcomes that need to be achieved in the future in quantifiable terms.  A financial model that looks at a three to ten-year horizon in terms of base, target (or budget) and superior levels of growth is recommended.

2. Define the business model and strategy. This step involves a clear articulation of two separate but related issues. The business model is how the company drives revenue and makes money.  Its strategy is how it competes in the marketplace. You will want to identify where the leverage points are in each and how they can be maximized. This should help you determine the growth opportunities that will lead to fulfillment of the vision you defined in step one.

3. Identify roles and expectations. With the first two elements established, you should think about the specific skill sets that will be needed to drive the business model and strategy you have just identified.  Those skill sets inform the kinds of roles and expectations that will be associated with the outcomes you must achieve if the “future company” you have envisioned is to be realized.  Expectations should be articulated in the form of outcome criteria which you will use to define what “success” means in the fulfillment of each role.


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Compensation Framework

With the business framework in place, a compensation framework is easier to contruct.  Your company’s pay structure should help align roles and expectations (just identified) with the business vision, model and strategy.  It does this by framing the financial partnership that will exist between ownership and the workforce.  It should include the following:

1. Identify a Pay Philosophy.This is a written statement that acts as a kind of compensation “constitution” for your business.  It should define what kind of outcomes the company is willing to “pay for”—and presupposes you have determined how value creation is defined in your business.  Defining value creation puts you in a better position to articulate your company’s belief about how that value should be shared and with whom. The pay philosophy is also where a company addresses whether it’s going to adopt an expansive or selective approach to structuring rewards for key producers.

2. Engineer Pay Strategies that Reflect the Philosophy. This means you will pay attention to both salary structures and value sharing—and strive to achieve an effective balance between the two.  Likewise, you will build both short-term and long-term incentive plans (value sharing arrangements) that properly manifest the organization’s belief about the kind of financial partnership it wants to have with its people.  To do so, you must pay attention to both the structural and the mindset impact of the plans you develop.  Structure addresses who should be in the plan, what kind of plan it should be, how much it should pay out and so forth.  Mindset has to do with whether or not a plan will build a greater sense of stewardship about ownership priorities and whether there will be a higher level of commitment and engagement on the part of employees.

3. Adopt a Total Rewards Approach. This implies that you come to accept that there must be more to your value proposition than financial rewards.  First, there must be a clear and compelling future—one that invigorates key producers about where the business is headed.  They need to be able to see themselves in that future and believe that their unique abilities are necessary for its fulfillment.  Second, employees seek a positive work environment.  This suggests premier talent in particular is working within the sphere of its distinct abilities, that its work has a strategic purpose and it likes the nature of the work in which it is engaged as well as the team of people with which it associates.  Third, there must be opportunities for personal and professional development.  This doesn’t necessarily mean training—although that can be a component.  Rather, it means people feel as though their abilities will be magnified as a result of their association with your organization and its resources.  And finally, fourth, there must be financial rewards.  And those financial rewards need to relate to the value a producer helps create in the business.  Key people want to have an appropriate salary and bonus plan, but beyond that they want to know there is a mechanism for building wealth in a similar way ownership experiences.  (This does not necessarily mean sharing stock, however.)

Talent Framework

The final piece in your performance framework is talent.  This area of focus has to do with identifying your key producers and defining where you have potential talent “gaps.”  With both existing talent and that being recruited, your talent framework must include a plan for communicating role expectations and the rewards associated with their fulfillment.

1. Identify Key Producers. These are individuals who are most responsible for helping the company consistently achieve the “success” standard you identified in your business framework.  You need to be able to distinguish between this kind of contributor and the rest of your workforce.  You should also be able to identify the skill sets of those in this category and how they compare with the expertise needed to achieve the growth goals your have set.

2. Identify Talent “Gaps.”  Step one should make it easier for you to identify where the company falls short in the skills and roles needed to reach organizational performance standards and goals.  That gap should then drive the recruiting strategy your business adopts for seeking new talent.

3. Communicate Expectations.Individuals that are capable of driving the performance of the company want there to be high expectations that are well defined.  Expectations are—or at least should be—reinforced in the way people are paid.  When there is clarity and continuity between company vision, business model and strategy, roles and expectations and rewards, “line of sight” exists within the organization.  This means each of those elements are working together to create a unified vision of what the target is, who is responsible for its completion and how he or she will be rewarded when expectations have been fulfilled.

4. Communicate Rewards. In the context just described, pay strategies form a kind of capstone that defines the financial partnership you want to have with your key people.  As a result, compensation must be both effectively engineered and clearly communicated. That communication should include a statement of the company’s pay philosophy, an articulation of the specific program(s) being introduced and a projection of the total rewards value a producer can receive from the business over an extended period of time.  When all of this occurs, individuals being recruited into the organization have a magnified view of the value proposition they are being offered.  The new employee is no longer being recruited to a $175,000 salaried position.  He or she is able to see they are entering a financial “partnership” that a value of $2 million over the next five years (or whatever the numbers play out to be for your company).

When you invest the time to build a performance framework as just described, you create the continuity needed for a high performance culture to take root.  You end up with confidence in your ability to attract and retain the kind of people that can positively impact the performance trajectory of your business.  And you are able to more clearly identify priorities for building the organization you need to meet your company’s growth expectations. 

Ready to Get Started?

When it comes to building a compensation strategy, you can trust that VisionLink knows what works and what doesn’t. We are ready to share that knowledge with you.

Ken Gibson

Ken is Senior Vice-President of The VisionLink Advisory Group. He is a frequent speaker and author on rewards strategies and has advised companies for over 30 years regarding executive compensation and benefit issues.