High performance vs tick-box cultures

ImageIf you were to design your own organisation from scratch, would it look like it does now?  Probably the answer is no.  Organisations evolve and functional areas which served a purpose at the time of establishment may become less relevant over time, yet we retain them because, well, we’ve always done things this way.  As the organisation evolves, so we see more controls and systems and processes creeping in to bind together the otherwise rather disparate strands of the organisation.

There is a danger in all this that we evolve into a tick-box culture – one in which everything is driven by rules, regulations, systems, controls and processes.  You find that, in order to spend a small amount of money on the organisation’s behalf, you have to get a capital expenditure authorisation signed by three directors.  You can’t take a day’s holiday at short notice because the rules won’t allow it.  And the tighter the controls, the less freedom you have to make decisions without having to gain committee approval.

The tick-box culture (TBC) may be necessary in some environments.  If I found myself on an oil-rig, I would want to know that it’s not ok to light a cigarette and throw away the match.  Here, the rules save lives.  In knowledge-based organisations the rules may just be plain silly.

In a high performance culture (HPC) the rules and regulations are a given, and sufficiently rigorous to prevent chaos, but sufficiently relaxed to allow freedom of thought and action.  People see the rules as a support, rather than a driver, for what they do.

Let’s take an HR example.  In a TBC, managers set objectives by a specific date, because the system tells them they have to.  There’s no enthusiasm about the process and many do it grudgingly to ‘get it out of the way’.  Similarly, they complete appraisals by a specific date to appease HR, when really the whole process is getting in the way of their day job.  Finally, they sit down and half-heartedly produce a personal development plan with each staff member, usually at the eleventh hour before the HR Department’s imposed deadline.

In an HPC, managers understand the organisational strategy and their own department’s role in supporting that strategy.  Objective setting is taken seriously and objectives are directly tied to strategic aims.  Appraisals are encouraging, supportive and developmental and the personal planning which results from the appraisal is genuinely designed to help the individual develop and grow both for their own and for the organisation’ benefit.

Try this:


Mark on the line where you see your organisation now.  Indicate with an arrow whether it is moving more towards the HPC or TBC end or standing still.

Now mark on the line where you see yourself.  Is your mindset more in line with the HPC or TBC?  Which way are you moving?

Finally, mark where you believe those with whom you work closely would place you on this line?  And which way do you think they would imagine you are moving, if at all?

If you are closer to the HPC than the organisation, what can you do to change it?  What small changes can you make in your own work area which shift you and your team closer to the HPC?

If you don’t make those changes, are you in danger of preserving or promoting something mediocre, which you could change for the better?

To discuss management/leadership development, soft skills training, business strategy development, public speaking or facilitation, please do give me a call on +44 161 929 4145 or email me at david@davidcotton.co.uk