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Why today's high-performance culture isn't what you think it is

February 2, 2022 - 18 min read


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What is high-performance culture?

5 characteristics of high-performance culture

Examples of high-performance culture

Why is high-performance culture important?

Can high-performance culture fuel peak performance?

5 steps to creating high-performance culture

What does it mean to have a high-performance culture? 

The answer isn’t as simple as it seems. As our workforce continues to evolve, so does our measurement of success. And if you asked what a successful high-performance culture looked like even just two years ago, you might have a different answer than today. 

At BetterUp, we recognize the whole person shows up to their jobs every day. Whether that’s behind a computer screen on a living room couch or if your employees are transitioning back to the office, culture matters. 

But it takes recognizing the human behind the employee to pull out the best parts of your workforce. After all, talent is human.

"All of the high-performing individuals I coach have a self-reflection habit in place. High-performing employees tend to be self-aware and know what they value. They know how their own core values intersect with organizational values, and they have ways of practically drawing on both to plan strategically, measure progress and deal with setbacks.
As human beings, values are what drives us at our core. We all come with our own skills, capabilities, and strengths. We have needs, we have lives outside of work. But when organizations look at talent from a whole-person perspective, that’s when a high-performance culture comes out to play."

Kerstin Graebner, CPC, ACC BetterUp Coach 


Let’s take a closer look at what defines a high-performance culture — and why it’s important. You’ll also learn what key factors make up a high-performance culture to create a thriving environment at your company.

What is high-performance culture?

At first glance, high-performance culture can sound like a nebulous term. We all likely have different measurements of success for our organizations. 

A high-performance culture can still look different in execution at different organizations. But at its core, it should promote a thriving, psychologically safe work environment. A work environment where employees feel a sense of belonging, trust, and ownership. 

5 key characteristics of a high-performance culture

At BetterUp, we’ve looked into the science behind what makes an organization successful. Here are some key characteristics of any high-performing organization. 

1. Inclusive and future-minded leaders 

Leaders have incredible influence over culture, performance, and the employee experience. At BetterUp, we’ve found inclusive leadership pays dividends for organizations. Employees with inclusive leaders are: 

  • 50% more productive 
  • 90% more innovative 
  • 150% more engaged 
  • And have more than 54% lower turnover

But beyond inclusivity, leaders who adopt a future-minded mindset see incredible results. Future-minded leaders — defined as the ability to think about the future and envision what’s possible — have higher-performing teams: 

2. Values and purpose

Values and purpose also show up in many high-performing organizations. But in order for values and purpose to live within the company’s culture, it needs to be embedded into the organizational structure

Are your company's core values put into practice? How does your company’s culture embody purpose and meaning? Do employees have a sense of how their contributions tie into the purpose of the organization? 

According to McKinsey, 85% of executives and upper management feel connected to a sense of purpose in their work. Compare that to just 15% of frontline leaders and employees.


Our data cited above found that employees are more satisfied when they feel they are contributing to the organization. Higher job satisfaction leads to increased productivity, innovation, and employee engagement.

Simply having values and purpose won’t make the cut. Organizations need to ensure employees understand the connection between their work to the purpose of the organization. 

3. Well-developed (and structured) teams 

How people do what they do matters. And that includes team structure and development. It’s not common for humans to enjoy friction in their day-to-day jobs. Fostering a collaborative, psychologically safe environment is critical to developing teams well

In the research cited above, Gallup found work structure has an influence on employee engagement and performance. With this in mind, managers should work to cut friction, gaps in communication, and overwhelming challenges. 

4. Learning and development opportunities 

Learning pathways for employees have a heavy influence on high-performance cultures. We know employees are more likely to stay with their organization if they see opportunities for growth and development. We also know this fosters a sense of belonging, ownership, and connection to the organization. 

Consider ways you can create a culture of learning. Professional development is key to any company. But if you’re looking at fostering a high-performance culture, don’t skip out on learning opportunities


5. A great employee experience 

Lastly, the employee experience is a game-changing factor to high-performance cultures. It’s a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Culture impacts the employee experience, yet the employee experience also impacts culture

In this two-way street relationship, a great employee experience can be the “make it or break it” factor. It’s how the organization cares for its employees — and how the organization treats its employees like whole people

And when employees are having a great employee experience, their contributions to the culture are reflected. Think: increased employee retention, more productivity, increased employee engagement, and higher performance. 

Examples of a high-performance culture

High-performance cultures come in all shapes and sizes. We can look to Gallup for some examples of high-performance cultural behaviors that work. 

  • Organizations that don’t define “growth and development” as “promotions.” There’s a big difference between these two. Growth, learning, and development should be attainable in the day-to-day. Upskilling is more important than ever. Avoid the perspective that growth and development are synonymous with promotions. High-performance cultures fosters development at any stage, regardless of job title outcome. 
  • Leadership owns cultural change. You might be in an organization where you’ve identified aspects of your culture that you’d like to change. But deferring to HR to “fix the problems” isn’t going to fix anything. Leaders who lean into the cultural change needed are modeling by example. It’s an important behavior to adopt when looking to create a high-performance culture. 
  • When leaders act as coaches. Every new hire at BetterUp has some required reading. One article is The Execution Trap by Roger Martin. It’s centered around this idea that individual contributors or employees simply take orders from above. Gallup refers to this type of leadership as “acting like a boss, not a coach.”

    Coaching has its own host of benefits. When leaders adopt coaching, it can further enable development, engagement, and employee well-being. Consider providing your managers with access to coaching. With personalized coaching, your leaders will be equipped to handle feedback and navigate change. 

Why is high-performance culture important?

A high-performance culture is important for a number of reasons. 

  • Increased productivity, innovation, and creativity. Increased employee engagement has plenty of benefits. But among some of the most influential benefits are increased productivity, innovation, and creativity. 
  • A deep sense of belonging. High-performance cultures are only achievable if employees feel that they belong. It’s important to recognize that belonging and performance go hand-in-hand. 
  • An open culture of feedback and communication. Creating a culture of feedback can sound intimidating. Clear, direct communication and opportunities to provide and receive feedback is extremely beneficial. A high-performing organization is agile and able to adapt to feedback quickly for optimal results. 
  • Better cross-collaboration within the organization. The way your employees work with one another matters. With the right scaffolding within your organization, you can develop teams effectively. As a result, they’ll collaborate better with each other cross-functionally. 
  • A better bottom line. In the end, each of these factors results in this: a better bottom line. Your business will see increased growth and performance not just in employee development and growth but also in its earnings. 

Can high-performance culture fuel peak performance?

After reaching 1 million coaching sessions as part of the BetterUp community, we took some time to reflect. What can we learn about growth, development, and peak performance


Well, a lot.

Our Members showed significant improvement in the below areas in just six months time:

Looking at these factors, it’s important to understand how they connect to the key components that make up a high-performance culture. In fact, there’s plenty of overlap. For example, to accept and give feedback in meaningful ways, people need a level of self-awareness. They need resilience and the ability to look inward at their own emotions. 

Or let’s take purpose and meaning. We know that any high-performing culture has a strong connection of purpose and meaning woven into its fibers. 

Empowering peak performance in your employees draws a direct line to a high-performing culture. It’s a matter of pulling those levers that’ll help unlock that potential within your employees, like coaching. 

5 steps to creating a high-performance culture 

If you’re ready to create meaningful change that drives performance, consider these five elements. 

1. Communicate your core values and purpose 

Your employees should understand how your core values connect to their work and daily interactions. They should also deeply understand the purpose of their work — and how it contributes to larger company goals.

"Values can be one among various tools a leader can draw on to foster a high-performance culture. Operationalizing them in team meetings, values can be a practical tool for aligned decision-making and innovation. As a part of check-ins, leaders as coaches can encourage reflection and boost motivation in their teams."

Kerstin Graebner, CPC, ACC, BetterUp Coach 

2. Reward and recognize employees 

Employee recognition goes a long way. This is especially true for reinforcing positive behaviors, especially amid cultural changes. 

Stop and take a minute to recognize the employees who are reflective of the culture you’d like to create. That moment of gratitude can have a multiplier effect within your organization, too. 

3. Encourage open communication and feedback 

Creating a culture of feedback and open communication is crucial. When employees are heard, it means you've established a psychologically safe work environment.


Feedback can be difficult for leaders and employees alike. But when your organization creates a culture of feedback where feedback is looked at as a form of care, it’s beneficial to your company culture. 

4. Develop inclusive leaders 

We’ve already mentioned the power that inclusive leaders wield at any organization. Continue to invest in leaders who adopt inclusive mindsets.

But invest in leaders who foster a deep sense of belonging for their teams. Also, encourage those growth and development opportunities for leaders to continue to learn. 

5. Provide personalized coaching 

Personalized coaching can pay dividends for your organization. With BetterUp, you can provide your employees with one-on-one coaching to help empower their success.

We’ve found employees with access to coaching have lower stress, higher purpose, and higher resilience. We also find employees have stronger mental fitness and better overall well-being. 

Bring your organization’s culture to the next level 

If you're ready to make big, organizational culture changes, there's no better time than now. From re-examining company values and corporate culture to adapting positive behavior changes, achieving a high-performance culture is within reach.

As a result, you'll see engaged employees driving better financial results. But you'll also get a sense of empowerment from your people. And that is where the real magic happens.

Consider ways you can foster leadership development into your high-performance work culture. In the end, you'll help employees reach their full potential. And soon, those shared goals will become winning metrics.


Published February 2, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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