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Building A High-Performance Company

Originally published: 11.01.07 by Jim McDermott

We used to call it quality. Today, it’s performance excellence or, simply, the pursuit of the high-performance organization. Is your business on the road to high performance?

High performance addresses the management of business from the perspective that you’re in it to win. You run a business in order to create, maintain and sustain a winning organization. That’s not an easy task, but the concepts of performance excellence provide a roadmap to help get you there. Performance excellence is about winning in the marketplace with a “high-performin, high-integrity, ethical organization.” You don’t have to be big; you don’t have to be famous or well known. You simply have to have a great organization.

The Gartner Group, a highly respected research and consulting organization, identified five keys to building a high-performance organization. These are practices of successful companies in a variety of fields and the five characteristics identified as the basic keys to success.

Gartner’s five characteristics of high-performing organizations:

1. They set ambitious targets and consistently and continuously achieve those objectives.
2. They display a strong sense of purpose through shared values both inside and outside the organization.
3. They have a strategic focus and alignment so that employees know how they are contributing to the results of the organization.
4. They have the agility to adapt to changing circumstances quickly.
5. They have a common and shared business model throughout the organization.

High-performance organizations have great insights into their market and detect changes earlier than other businesses, and they keep their best people and have responded quickly and efficiently to external pressures.

High-performance organizations make a difference in their communities. They make a difference because they excel as an organization: they make a difference because the people who work for them consider their work worthwhile, and themselves and their co-workers as winners.

The building blocks for the high-performance organization, which we will discuss in detail in this series of columns, will help any organization focus its time, efforts and resources on building and sustaining a great organization. Here are the key components for establishing performance excellence in your company:

• Leadership
• Strategic Planning
• Customer and Market Focus
• Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
• Workforce Focus
• Process Management
• Results

Starting with the issue of leadership, nothing is more critical or fundamental to the success of the high performance organization. It is difficult to define, although everyone knows leadership when they see it. But without it, organizations will flounder, lack direction and focus, and ultimately, many will simply fail or cease to exist.

Ron Smith has written an excellent series on “The Discipline of Leadership.” If you haven’t read these columns, be sure to download them at If you have read them and haven’t kept copies of them, download a set for yourself for future reference and worthwhile reading.

Also refer to the excellent columns on establishing company culture by Jackie Rainwater ( Establishing a proper, winning culture is a basic task of the leader.

Additionally, Jim Collins, author of the best-selling business book, “Good to Great,” (2001, Collins) defined a concept called, Level 5 Leadership. Leaders in this category, he said, “are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the large goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious — but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.”

That’s the first leadership question — and lesson. Is your ambition first and foremost for your company and its greatness?

Effective leaders serve as a catalyst to create superb results — for the organization or company, not for the individual. They have the ability to clarify a vision and mission for the organization and then focus the organization’s resources, people, partners, suppliers, stakeholders on organizational results.

Another resource for learning and gaining valuable insights on leadership is the Baldrige National Quality Program’s Criteria for Performance Excellence (to download a copy of this document, visit:

The Baldrige criteria outline these guidelines to access your leadership capabilities:

1. How do you set and communicate organizational vision and values to the workforce, key suppliers and partners, customers and other stakeholders?
2. How do you promote an organizational environment that fosters, requires, and results in legal and ethical behavior?
3. How do you create an environment for organizational performance improvement?
4. How do you create an environment for organizational and workforce learning?
5. How do you communicate with and engage the entire workforce? Do you encourage frank, two-way communication throughout the organization?
6. How do you create a focus on action to accomplish company objectives, improve performance and attain its vision?

If you have sound, demonstrated practices that are in place that answer these questions, you are well on the way to building a high-performance company. If you’re not sure of the answers, put some thought to them, sit down with other managers and employees and involve them in the task of putting policies and procedures in place that address these critical questions.

Thirty-eight years of publishing experience helped to solidify Jim’s expertise, not only in the field of publishing, but in the heating and air conditioning industry, too. He is highly adept in business management, training and development, and is a strong ally to the hvac industry. Jim can be contacted at

Check Your Leadership Skills

According to the Baldrige National Quality Program, “In today’s environment, if you are standing still, you are falling behind. Making the right decisions at the right time is critical.”

To facilitate a discussion on leadership, the Baldrige program has put together a 40-question form, Are We Making Progress As Leaders?

Categories covered in the questionnaire include leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; human resources; process management; and business results.

Thirty-eight years of publishing experience helped to solidify Jim’s expertise, not only in the field of publishing, but in the heating and air conditioning industry as well. He is highly adept in business management, training and development, and is a strong ally to the hvac industry. He also is HVACR Business' editorial director. Jim can be contacted at

About Jim McDermott

Jim McDermott

Thirty-seven years of publishing experience helped to solidify Jim’s expertise, not only in the field of publishing, but in the heating and air conditioning industry too. He is highly adept in business management, training and development, and is a strong ally to the HVAC industry. He also is HVACR Business' editorial advisor.

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