6 Ways to Build a High Performance Workforce and a Company Culture Employees Love

October 10, 2014

“The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my @ss off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.

That’s right. Eight. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation – to not be hassled. That and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”


- Peter Gibbons, Office Space


We’ve all been there. Perhaps it was a fast-food restaurant in your formative years or a corporate gig later in life. Regardless, we all know the feeling: working in a job you absolutely despise. Endless bureaucracy, mind numbing rules, no motivation to perform.

So, how do you create a work culture that inspires employees to perform at their highest level and establish a work environment that people love? 

In recent years, ultra-successful companies like Zappos, Valve, and Netflix have adopted new management philosophies that value performance as the only metric of success and are finding they make happier and more productive employees.

While there are numerous frameworks that incorporate “performance driven” methodologies (results-driven work environment, holacracy, flat organizations, etc.), they all seem to incorporate a few common elements.

And even if your company isn’t full of highly paid knowledge workers, embracing just a few of these principles might help you drive more productivity and make employees feel happier and more fulfilled in their jobs.


1. Focus on finding great people, and then give them the freedom to perform.


Organizations, no matter their product or service, are doomed to stagnation without talented people to drive growth.

Yet, all too often, we regard the people we hire as an afterthought. Are they “good enough”? However, the people we employ are the ones that make our organizations relevant and successful— they are more important than R&D, lower prices, or any other competitive advantage.

Take the server in a restaurant, for example. Have you ever you walked out of a restaurant after receiving terrible service, thinking, “I’m never going back?” No matter how good the food may be, bad service can still spoil the meal.

Experiences like this are evidence of short-term thinking overcoming the long-term importance of finding and hiring the right people.

Valve Corporation (For those who aren’t familiar with Valve, it is an ultra-successful video game development and digital distribution company. Founded in 1996, today Valve produces nearly $2.5 billion in annual revenue—with only about 330 full-time employees.), a company celebrated for its innovative HR practices, states in its employee handbook, “Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe.”

No matter your product or service, the same is true for your organization.


2. Allow Employees Freedom and Don’t Micromanage


“When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99% of their value.”

-The Valve Handbook


After finding and hiring the right people, give them a job to do and the room to do it their way.

After all, there’s no sense in finding and hiring great people if you are only going to restrict and manage their every move.

And, if you think this only works for small companies, think again. In Netflix’s Freedom & Responsibility employee presentation, CEO Reed Hastings says, “Our model is to increase employee freedom as we grow, rather than limit it, to continue to attract and nourish innovative people, so we have a better chance of sustained success.

What does this mean for your organization? Seek honest opinions and feedback. Value transparency. Give employees a job to do and let them strike out and find new and innovative ways to do it. After all, isn’t this the way you would want to be treated?

Now, this doesn’t mean all rules or regulations are bad. Of course, they have their place. Find a balance between maintaining order and giving your staff the freedom to perform and deliver excellence on their own terms.


3. Be Flat (If It Makes Sense for Your Company)


Bob: “I have eight different bosses right now. That’s right. Eight.”

- Peter Gibbons, Office Space


No one likes to be micromanaged. A flat organization is one way to structure an organization to help avoid the problems that arise from over management.

A flat organization is an organization that has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between staff and executives. The idea here is that well-trained workers will be more productive when they are more directly involved in the decision-making process rather than when they are closely supervised by many layers of management.

From our perspective, the key take-away here is to avoid layering your company with management roles that provide no added value to a process. Supervision and organizational divisions have their place in many (if not most) companies—but no one likes or needs 8 different supervisors watching her or his every move. It stifles productivity, kills innovation, and makes even the most competent employees turn into automatons, afraid of making decisions on their own.


4. Allow for Self-Organizing, Cross-Functional Teams


Excerpted from the Valve Employee Handbook


Excerpted from the Valve Employee Handbook

While job descriptions tend to be specific and linear in their thinking, great people generally have a dynamic range of skills, interests, and talents.

Let your employees (at every level of your organization) spend at least a portion of their time working on projects outside of their traditional roles.

After all, people are most successful when they are inspired and self-motivated. Help them find their inspiration.


5. Embrace Mistakes


“No one has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake… providing the freedom to fail is an important trait of the company!”

-Valve Employee Handbook


Part of the risk of trying new things and striving for continual improvements is that sometimes things go wrong.

You can’t be afraid to fail. If you fear failure, your organization will never try anything new. The key is to fail often but quickly. Evaluate what went wrong, and find an opportunity to grow and make things better.


6. Value Performance Above All Else


“We don’t measure people by how many hours they work or how much they are in the office. We do care about accomplishing great work. Sustained B-level performance, despite “A for effort”, generates a generous severance package, with respect. Sustained A-level performance, despite minimal effort, is rewarded with more responsibility and great pay.”

- Netflix’s Freedom and & Responsibility Presentation


Above all else, when evaluating your employee’s performances, judge them only on the results they deliver. Whatever the metric—satisfied customers, maximum efficiency, outstanding sales—give employees a goal to achieve, and then give them the freedom to achieve it on their own terms. At the end of the day, reaching the goal, not how you reach it, is the only thing that matters.