How to Sustain High Performance without Burnout
In turbulent times, every business faces unrelenting pressure to grow and adapt. The pain is even greater with teams that are hybrid or remote and span multiple countries and cultures. If you are like me, you and your teams face constant pressure to deliver and sustain high performance with the same or fewer resources in spite of ever-increasing complexity. With this pressure, it's no surprise that burnout and mental health have become essential topics in every workplace!
Ensuring the right culture and values are in place is more important than ever to attract, motivate, engage and keep everyone productive without burning out. This is not just about having aligned goals. How you activate the right culture and values can build leadership capacity to help you succeed now and in the long term for your people, customers, and shareholders. Here are some ideas that might help.
Identify Opportunities for Shared Culture & Values
Culture refers to the way things are done in a group. It's the set of beliefs, customs, practices, and social behaviors that shape how your team interacts and works together. Values, on the other hand, are the principles and beliefs that guide how your team behaves. They are the foundation of your culture. As your business grows and adapts, some aspects of your culture and values will need to stay the same, and other aspects will need to evolve. When you proactively shape your desired culture and values, you also build needed leadership capacity for the future.
Allow Values to Evolve
Having a set of desired values helps to make better decisions and guide behavior. But, they should evolve over time. In Produgie, we have our “People FIRST” values (Fair, Inclusive, Resilient, (Psychologically) Safe, and Trustworthy). Our new hires commit to these when they join us and we regularly revisit these values and (re)define what they look like. In the truest “eat your own dog food” fashion, we monitor Psychological Safety and Inclusion indices in teams on our platform. When we face tough decisions, I frequently ask, “what would our values tell us to do?” When we use values to help others make decisions, we also can build leadership insights and capacity for decision-making in the future.
Give Voice to Cultural Diversity
It’s natural to want a single culture or set of values that feel comfortable to you. But the more diverse your team is, the more you need to create norms that work for everyone. My own team is 100% remote and spans 2 continents and 4 countries. As a US American, I am very comfortable with direct and open communications. But the majority of people in my organization come from countries that value less direct communication to preserve relationships and show respect. When we have our monthly virtual town hall, it works better for us to break into small groups or use text inputs and discussion to explore issues about performance and culture rather than have a large, open discussion. Giving voice to cultural diversity means more than hearing about or acknowledging differences; it means adapting practices and routines that shape a high-performing culture that enables everyone.
Involve Others in Meaningful Ways
One of the best ways to shape a shared culture is to identify and deploy a few practices or routines to reinforce the desired culture. This is an opportunity to involve your team in meaningful ways and assign ownership. I try to balance asking for volunteers and asking people to volunteer because this effort will help them build leadership muscles. Delegating does not mean dumping responsibility on someone else. It requires guidance and support so that the involvement leads to shared commitment and capabilities rather than a sense of being overwhelmed or stretched too far. Be sure you have the resources needed to implement the changes and if you don’t, press pause.
Prioritize for Real
It’s easy to rate initiatives by importance and we are all guilty of this. But to shape a culture for sustained performance without burnout, we have to become more brutal in prioritizing. My own tendency is to want to do more, more, more - but I’ve learned to make a list that gets prioritized with a rank order. This helps others make choices and liberates them to challenge work or to question its relative importance. If you add some work, reduce or take away some other effort. Having a culture that continuously revisits priorities will promote faster adaptation without overwhelming people.
Prepare for Messiness
There is a reason why 90% of people who diet are fatter a year later! It is hard to change habits and ways of doing things. Shaping or morphing your culture and values won’t happen overnight, so be prepared to stick with it and experience some failure along the way. Consider inviting leaders you know who have successfully shaped cultures & values to share their lessons learned with you and your team. Ask them what didn’t work and how they stayed the course. I find that learning from failure can be even more powerful than learning from others’ success. When you learn how to learn faster from failure, your team can adapt more quickly with less wasted effort.
Implement Regular Pulse Checks
To ensure the success of your culture and values-building efforts, create regular pulse checks. This can be done in low or high-tech ways as long as you do it consistently. Recently, we started a fortnightly pulse survey using the World Health Organisation - Five Well-Being Index (WHO-5). One of our engineers took the lead on this effort and in our annual kick-off, she led a session on why mental health matters and introduced a simple, automated fortnightly survey using Google forms. We broke into small groups and each agreed to 1 practice for the next 2 weeks. My group agreed to share a gratitude log in Slack. During our Monthly Biz Reviews, we’ll take a few minutes to check in on progress. Whatever you do, start small with low expectations. Build this routine into your regular business cadence to avoid overwhelming people.
Proactively Communicate with Stakeholders
No person or team operates in isolation. Today there are so many communication channels available but more is not always better. Proactive engagement with key stakeholders on the right things with the right tools is magic when it comes to saving time and energy. We use a 3R Map (Roles, Responsibilities & Relationships) to make it easier for each person and team to proactively manage expectations and actions with essential stakeholders. This helps us to adapt on an ongoing basis rather than agree on annual goals and then wait for issues to arise that need to be resolved.
Get Started Today!
Building the right culture and values for sustained high performance without burnout takes time and may involve some failure. But it is worth the effort! Stay focused and allow for messiness. I hope you find these tips helpful and look forward to hearing your own secrets to shaping the right culture and values. Reach out to me anytime on LinkedIn.
This article was inspired by the “Culture and Values” Sprint in Produgie’s Leader Sprint Library. It was brought to life by Dr. Alison Eyring, Founder & CEO, Produgie.
If you are a Produgie license holder and manage one or more teams, use this link to a pre-design Sprint for a quick start! Alison’s Pre-Fab Culture & Values Sprint (PM+/ 8 weeks)