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5 characteristics of high-performance organizations

Boost employee performance by building trust, providing critical feedback and recognition as well as opportunities for growth, writes Cyndi Wenninghoff.

5 min read



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Performance is the conversation of the moment. Some leaders are concerned if remote and hybrid workers are getting their work done. The changes to how work gets done in the last several years have also made us question the performance metrics we’re using to gauge success. These are conversations we should have but aren’t the only levers of performance.

Cyndi Wenninghoff

As we continue to blaze a path in the future of work, some things will remain the same when it comes to maximizing performance. It’s about creating an environment where employees can perform to their full potential. Our responsibility as human resources leaders is to guide our leadership team in creating that environment, shaping our workplace culture to be aimed at employee success. If employees can’t be successful, then they will struggle to meet any performance goals the organization sets.

We know that employees believe leaders are responsible for creating workplace culture. So, when we’re having questions about performance, we need to look at how our workplace culture is enabling or hindering employee performance.

There are five characteristics that help create an environment for employees to be successful.

1. Trust first

Leaders need their relationship with employees to be built on trust. Why? Because we want employees to trust the organization. Without trust, we can’t create an environment to maximize performance. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people trust businesses more than other entities. We need to maintain and build on this.

How do we build trust? It means practicing vulnerability when the situation calls for it and being transparent with everything from performance to communication. It also means trusting that employees want to do good work and have good intentions. When we trust our employees to do good work on behalf of the organization, we create an environment where they can succeed.

2. Show compassion

We’ve heard of empathy, but we can do better than placing ourselves in the shoes of others. An article in The Atlantic by Arthur C. Brooks makes the case to ditch empathy and use compassion instead. 

Compassion is more than just understanding situations from a person’s perspective. It looks for the path forward. When we have compassion in the workplace, it’s empathizing with people and finding a solution that is beneficial to both the employee and the organization. It’s also showing employees that you care about them and finding ways for them to be successful.

By having compassion, we help build trust with employees and show them they’re not on an island. We’re showing that we’re willing to help build the bridge for them to be successful and meet individual and organizational goals.

3. Prioritize feedback

Leaders need to create a culture of feedback, so information is clear, and employees feel comfortable presenting problems. Yes, it can be uncomfortable at first, but providing feedback builds on our platform of trust and compassion.

Employees want to know if they’re missing the mark. Unfortunately, many employees aren’t receiving critical feedback conversations. We can’t improve performance if we’re not transparent. Being transparent also sets the stage for employees to give us open and honest feedback. We can’t fix what we don’t know is wrong. To remove barriers to performance, we need to know what they are. That means getting feedback from boots on the ground.

4. Recognize excellence

Feedback doesn’t always have to be critical. It should also recognize when things are going great and reinforce performance leaders want to see. One of the top drivers of engagement for employees is when they are recognized for contributing to the organization’s success. Recognizing work that aligns with the organization’s mission and values is a great place to start.

Leaders need to recognize great work by being specific and constructive. Communicate what is working and why. Show employees what you’re looking for when it comes to performance so they can mirror it. This also lets employees know that you value their contributions to the team.

5. Aim for growth

Leaders need to create the space for development to boost performance. A Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and millennial survey that both generations want development and growth opportunities at work. Upfront, this sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

Create individual development plans and align them with goals for the year. Each goal should be tied to a key result. This can be as simple as cross-training a coworker or attending an in-house training on public speaking. Development and growth aren’t just about attending conferences. It’s about sharing knowledge. This creates an environment where employees can contribute ideas and improve performance across the organization.

Boosting performance is about creating an environment for employees to perform. To do that, we need to trust, show compassion, provide feedback, acknowledge excellence and aim to constantly grow. These aren’t big-budget items, but characteristics you can implement now to be a high-performing organization.


Cyndi Wenninghoff is the employee success director at Quantum Workplace, where she oversees the Employee Success area, which is responsible for employee engagement, recruiting, DE&I, onboarding, and retention efforts. She is also the Communications and PR Coordinator for RISE Omaha, a motivating speaker series designed to inspire and unite women throughout Omaha, helping to connect women leaders and build the next generation of female business leaders.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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