We hear lots of talk about the ‘high-performing workplace’ and it is a great buzzword but what does it actually mean in practice and what do we need to do to achieve it?
My field is negotiation and, interestingly, this has given me an insight into what practical steps we can take to turn an organisation into a high-performing one. You see, in the office we are negotiating all the time. Not just with our clients, suppliers and other external stakeholders but, crucially, with our internal stakeholders too. With our boss, with our team below us, with the IT team to build that new software, with the finance team to release more budget – the list is endless. Almost every interaction with a colleague is a negotiation. So I believe a high-performing organisation is an organisation which can quickly reach win-win in all of these micro-negotiations.
Does it have to be win-win? Yes. If not, there will be resentment, de-motivation, dragging of heels, undermining and sabotage. Not the hallmarks of a high-performing organisation, I am sure you will agree. Furthermore, what are those wins likely to be? Well, they are likely to be the business objectives for that individual, given where they are in the organisation. So the win-win outcome will (in theory at least) be the higher objectives for the overall organisation. And quickly? Yes, this is important too. Because if it takes hours, days, weeks or months to reach that solution, it is a huge internal friction, a massive operational cost, slowing the organisation down. But if all staff are trained to think in terms of achieving win-win rapidly and efficiently, all this friction will be removed and the workplace will become so much more effective.
So How Do We Do It?
If it’s about quick, win-win internal negotiations, we can break this down to 4 simple steps:
- Be Clear About Your Win: Be very clear about the outcome you would like, be ambitious about this outcome and focus on the bigger picture.
- Help Them Get Their Win: Step into their shoes and understand their perspective. Be ambitious for them, too. Help them achieve more than they might have thought possible themselves.
- Resolve Any Deadlocks: Outcomes will frequently appear mutually exclusive but if you are creative and focus on the bigger picture, this is actually rarely the case. The best negotiators use compromise as a last resort; instead, by focussing on the bigger picture, they develop solutions which create more value so all parties are better off. If you need to, use neutral, independent benchmarks or third parties to reach a solution everyone agrees is fair.
- Build Trust: The high-performing organisation is characterised by high levels of trust. Build trust by always delivering on your promises and by treating everyone fairly. Have verification procedures in place – it is these which will enable the trust and, over time, you won’t need to use them.
It sounds easy in theory and, actually, it is easier in practice than you might imagine. And if all your employees can operate by these principles, you’re a big step closer to having built a high-performing workplace.
Simon Horton is the author of The Leader’s Guide to Negotiation. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Imperial College and has taught negotiation and collaboration to the British Army, ExxonMobil, Slaughter and May and many other leading global organisations in different sectors. In his spare time, he is a trapeze artist and used to perform as a stand-up comedian.