Culture Change through High Performance Working

By Jabeel Mahmood, Research and Policy Officer

Since the economic downturn in 2008, the UK has faced a ‘productivity puzzle’, where productivity has mostly stagnated.

There are many different pieces to this puzzle, which High Performance Working (HPW) could bring together; addressing the stunted growth in productivity on an individual, organisational, and national level. HPW is “a general approach to managing organisations that aims to stimulate more effective employee involvement and commitment to achieve high levels of performance”.

Although appearing complex, the individual practices that compose it are neither unfamiliar nor new. What is new, however, is that our understanding has shifted away from implementing as many ‘best’ practices as possible, towards creating a High Performance Working System (HPWS): carefully selecting and tailoring a set of practices and activities that suit the context of the organisation.

Implementing High Performance Working in some organisations is not unlike initiating a programme of culture change. Culture change should affect behaviours and practices at many levels, and a well-implemented HPWS strives to achieve the same. Identification of the unique challenges an organisation faces occurs prior to selecting the HPW practices. Following that, the implementation process of the HPW System can begin.

High Performance Working touches upon all areas of an organisation, from work processes, to the ways employees operate around them, and the beliefs, values and ideals they hold. A good example of High Performance Working practice is flexible working policies, which allow employees to determine the hours and the environments that are most conducive to their performance.

Other HPW practices, such as mentoring and actively facilitating opportunities for development result in high levels of employee commitment and continuous growth in skills. Inclusiveness and good communication between all levels of an organisation result in 360-degrees constructive feedback and fosters a sense of value and respect. Essentially, HPW unlocks increased performance gains for the organisation whilst building a culture that supports and values the employee’s skills and needs.

With organisations in the UK facing a ‘productivity puzzle’ and the ever-changing demands of society, High Performance Working systems may present part of the solution. They promote a working culture that values the employee; addresses obstacles in worker performance and motivation, and supports them in making the most of their skills, knowledge, and creativity.

Research has found that if effectively communicated and implemented, taking organisational  context into account, “HPW is potentially an organisational innovation from which everyone – employer, employee, and the economy as a whole, can win.”