Pick a leader – any successful leader. Then search Amazon and see how many books and other publications come up on that person. Abraham Lincoln? 83,642. Gandhi? 61,923. Even Barack Obama, who was widely introduced to the world just five years ago, has 8,670. People love studying successful people.
In the same way that many people have an insatiable appetite to study successful leaders, we in the business world tend to be fascinated with high-performance organizations. What are they like? What do they do differently? Is there a secret recipe that allows them to outperform their competition?
Of course, many books have been dedicated to this subject. From Tom Peters’s and Bob Waterman’s early 80′s best seller In Search of Excellence to Jim Collins’ Built to Last and Good to Great, there has been a succession of books that leaders and managers across the globe have devoured. Programs such as GE’s Six Sigma have trained countless people in how to achieve top performance and consultants have built entire practices around elements of high-performing companies.
While business professionals want to learn more about high-performance organizations in the hopes that they can apply some of the secret sauce to their own organization, many of the companies profiled within the pages of the aforementioned books were unable to sustain high performance. In fact, the number is about half. While much has been written on the subject, the truth is that the ingredients to high performance remain something of a mystery.
Part of the reason is the definition – what exactly do we mean by high performance? Is there a difference between simply surviving (which was the fate of some of the companies profiled in Built to Last, for example) and performing well over a long period? Do we mean companies which outperform others in their own industry or across industries? Over how long a time period does an organization need to perform exceptionally well in order to be considered a “high performer”? And which measures, financial or otherwise, are the best ones to use?
Over the last three decades, i4cp researchers have looked at various ways to define high performance and the traits that separate the consistently top organizations from the rest. Through that time, we have come to recognize high-performing organizations as ones that consistently outperform most of their competitors in four primary areas:
And, over the years, our research team has examined well over 100 different core human capital areas and tried to determine the differences between high-performing and low-performing organizations. The research has clearly shown that no single ingredient guarantees organizational success. Rather, high performance is like a delicate entrée – based on a staple of core ingredients any one of which, if left out or of inferior quality, will ruin the entire item.
The Five Domains of High Performance
While these five domains – Strategy, Leadership, Talent, Culture and Market – may seem a bit broad or even obvious, the separation our research has shown between high and low performers in these domains is startling. For example, in a just-released study on high performance by i4cp, the following graph depicts this separation:
These findings, along with previous studies, have convinced us to target our research on discovering the best ways for companies to boost their performance in these five domains and the numerous sub-domains within. We’re convinced that companies that focus on excelling in these areas are cooking up a surefire recipe for long-term success.
i4cp’s 4-Part Recommendation:
View a recording of Thursday’s webinar, The Five Domains of High-Performance Organizations.