A company’s culture not only defines the environment in which your employees work; it is the personality of your organization. And just like any good personality, a company culture should run deep, extending beyond casual dress codes, office perks, and paying lip service to fluffy initiatives like ‘no jerks allowed’ policies.  

Particularly for millennial employees, who now make up nearly half of the workforce, company culture is a major determining factor in their career choices. To that end, crafting an employee experience that fuels sustained motivation is one of HRs most critical responsibilities. And if you want your company’s culture to meaningfully impact the organization and actually guide it, it’s essential to clearly define and continuously reinforce a variety of elements including work environment, company mission, values, ethics and, critically, performance expectations and goals.

When properly established, structured and communicated around, a company’s culture can be a powerful tool for increasing the performance of an organization. When managers and employees are aligned around goals and business priorities, and equipped with the tools they need to make their conversations worthwhile for feedback and career development, companies can create a “Culture of Performance” that can help ensure their long-term competitive advantage. HR plays a key role in this process, evolving into a key player in corporate growth and innovation. With that in mind, here are three essential elements HR teams can nurture in order to develop a high-performing culture.

1. Foster an Environment Where Transparent Feedback is Regularly Shared

The number one characteristic of a successful team is trust, and creating an environment where your people feel psychologically safe within their work teams and able to speak freely with their managers both about work and life in general is absolutely essential. This level of trust can only exist when people can develop their relationships through “real-life” conversations and shared experiences.

To that end, HR teams should strive to create “culture of feedback” that allows for open communication and continuous, transparent feedback at all levels of your organization. When employees and their managers are able to trust and partner with each other, everyone is motivated to achieve their goals and to develop themselves to meet tomorrow’s challenges. Companies that are able to build the muscles of both giving and receiving continuous feedback are agile, aligned and motivated and can enjoy sustained competitive advantage.

2. Nurture a Sense of Purpose to Unify and Motivate Your People

A recent Gallup report that found that a staggering 87% of employees around the world aren’t engaged at work, and every business leader should be deeply concerned by this statistic. Unemployment rates are low and competition for talent is fierce, placing organizations that fail to optimize employee engagement and people performance at risk of losing their best and brightest talent. But even more importantly, as a business leader you have a responsibility to the people who spend the majority of their waking lives working towards making your company successful to make sure that work has purpose and meaning.

DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast report defines purpose as “an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for the organization, its partners, stakeholders, and society as a whole.” A shared sense of purpose serves as a unifier, and to develop this it’s essential that employees can link their individual objectives to the overarching “mission” of the business. When employees are able to link their individual goals to those of the business, team members develop a clear understanding of how their work impacts the company’s performance, which can have a significant positive impact on both retention and your bottom line.

3. Managers are the Linchpins of Performance: Focus on Helping and Developing Them

It’s no exaggeration to say that your people managers make or break your organization’s culture, as they play an outsized role in motivating employees and improving the performance across the workforce. Good managers align their teams around the most important initiatives, ensure progress towards individual and team goals with continuous coaching and feedback, recognize and reward top talents’ contributions to the business, and ensure every employee has a career development plan. Bad managers on the other hand demotivate employees and lower morale, are a significant cause of attrition, and can even damage the reputation of your business to prospective hires.

Investing time and resources into helping your managers develop and improve their skills is therefore critically important. Too often new managers are thrown into their roles without adequate training, so it’s imperative that your HR team spends time helping each manager understand the coaching and development elements of their role. By arming your managers with the skills and tools they need to give and receive quality feedback, be better coaches, and facilitate career growth and development amongst their team members you take a huge step towards ensuring a thriving and healthy culture.

Words Are Nice, But Actions Are King

The strategies that I’ve outlined above are critical actions and a great start for leaders who are hoping to transition their company towards a culture of high performance and sustainable growth. But they are just that; a great start. These aren’t quick fixes; they are major shifts in the DNA of your organization that have to be carefully planned for and executed effectively in order to have the impact that business leaders hope for.

However, if you’re willing to commit to and go through the process of making these changes in your organization, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Embracing this “mindset of change” is, according to Gallup, a key differentiator among the most engaged companies. And an engaged workforce is central to taking a “Culture of Performance” from a nice idea to the change agent that will take your business to a whole new level.  

This article was originally featured in Recruiter.com

Additional Resources: Continuous Performance Management, OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), Create a Feedback Culture