Maintaining sustainable work performance and organisational culture without sacrificing employee wellbeing

People often compare business to sport. After all, both involve teamwork, strategy, and working towards a common goal. The key difference is sport matches end after an hour or so, but business has no scheduled end point. This is why it is crucial that businesses maintain sustainable work performance in order to thrive long-term, avoiding the risk of burnout, failure, and an unhappy and low performing workplace. Managing long lasting work performance is easier said than done, but here are some ways you can ensure sustainable high performance in your business.

 Restructuring your company for endless growth

At Pierlite, we’ve prioritised an environment of sustainable work performance to the extent that we reinvented our vision, mission, values, and workplace culture. Before I joined Pierlite, the company’s vision was to be Australia’s largest lighting company providing lighting solutions everywhere. When I became Pierlite’s CEO, I worked with my team to change this completely. Why? What could be better than being the largest lighting company? Well, the problem with Pierlite’s old vision is that it gave the company an endpoint. Once we became Australia’s largest lighting company providing lighting everywhere, what else would we be working towards?

 To ensure Pierlite is ever-growing, we changed our vision and mission so that it would have no expiry date. Today, our vision is “empowering our people, our customers and our community to make a positive difference for a brighter future” and our mission is to “continuously challenge the status quo to drive growth through the pursuit of innovation, excellence, and performance to service our customers and our community.” Now, that’s something we could do forever. It’s also a vision and mission that gives the team a purpose when they come to work as it provides us with a genuine intent to make a difference. Having a purpose and passion to improve your organisation is key to sustainable performance.

 Everyone wakes up with good intentions. As leaders our job is to empower their intent and help them to grow into high performers. Employees are driven by intent when working towards a company’s purpose, so how do you ensure your team is connected to your company’s mission? One study found that 61% of employees don’t know what their company’s mission is. How can they be driven by their company’s purpose if they don’t even know what it is? Reminding your team of the company’s mission can be as easy as mentioning it in emails. I send out company-wide emails three times a week, and in them I remind my team of why we’re here, what our values are, and the importance of our work. My team responds with enthusiasm, gratitude, and passion – a lot can come from a simple email.  

 As leader of Pierlite in Australia and New Zealand, I know just as well as every other leader that things get busy. It’s easy to put seemingly trivial tasks like company emails on the backburner, however, we must make the time to invest in our team. The only reason the lemon tree in my garden can grow is because I make the effort to water it. The same goes for your team – they can only flourish if you invest in the effort and tools they need to grow.

 Working with your setbacks

Long-term performance is not about trying to have zero obstacles or have your entire team be at 100% all the time. Rather, sustainable growth is about accepting your losses and working through setbacks so that your company continues to grow stronger.

 When managing setbacks, it’s important to identify what causes them. Without properly addressing the causes of a performance drop, you put your company’s sustainable work performance at risk. Leaders set the rhythm for their team’s work culture, so consider how your leadership may be affecting your team’s performance. For example, maybe you need to focus more on “walking the talk”. As leaders, it’s our job to motivate and inspire when we speak in meetings, but we also need to follow through with our actions. You could be the best speaker in the world, but if your daily actions don’t reflect what you preach, your team’s performance will suffer. Accountability starts at the top, and leaders need to be held as accountable as the rest of the organisation.

 Setbacks in performance can also occur with poor management. A study conducted with 2,872 employees across 27 countries found that 40% of employees are high performers, 40% are average performers, and 20% perform below average. Who would you focus on mentoring in this situation? If you picked the 20% of below average performers, you’d be making the same mistake as many leaders. Businesses often pour resources into low performers to catch them up to speed, but what happens to the rest of your team? They lose motivation, they stop growing, and they may look for better opportunities elsewhere. Therefore, it’s not sustainable to exclusively focus on one small portion of your team and ignore the other 80%. Growth and mentorship should be afforded to your entire team, allowing them to collectively improve and excel together.

 Rest and wellbeing

People often think that maintaining long-term high performance involves a non-stop, crazy paced work environment. However, sustainable performance requires rest and positive wellbeing. Overworking your team will only lead to burnout and dissatisfaction, which makes strong long-term performance impossible. If we all continuously strive to be “Superman” when it comes to work performance, burnout will be inevitable. Contrary to popular belief, I believe that burnout mainly occurs when we are disconnected from our purpose, not necessarily when we work too much. It can be draining to work without motivation and purpose, which is why it’s essential to allow for rest and reflection of why we’re here.

 There’s a famous Japanese proverb saying, “fall down seven times, stand up eight.” My view is that we can fall down seven times, rest, and stand up eight. Making time for rest will allow you to come back stronger.

 At Pierlite, our values include leading with empathy and kindness, which results in a culture of sustainable performance. Empathy and kindness are needed in any situation, including when providing criticism and negative feedback. Virtually every manager at some point will need to provide their team with constructive criticism and voice where a team member may need to improve. It’s important to communicate this feedback to your team openly so that we can all learn and progress. However, it’s crucial that negative feedback is provided with respect and kindness. It’s not about upsetting people by telling them what they can’t do but helping them grow in a supportive manner.

 Pierlite has a culture where losing is part of learning. Employees are encouraged to reflect and grow from their mistakes rather than stress about them, which is essential for sustainable performance as stress reduces productivity and stunts long-term performance. I have never been upset with someone simply because they made a mistake. Instead, I see it as an opportunity for growth, and my team has only ever come back stronger after learning from their mistakes.

 A good leader also considers an employee’s wellbeing when their performance drops. Give them the opportunity to explain why they might not be performing to their usual standards. Remember, it’s ok to not be ok. Perhaps they’re not meeting their KPIs because of factors they can’t control, like the COVID-19 pandemic. If there are reduced clients coming in due to lockdown, you can’t base employee performance on revenue or number of clients. So, change their performance metric to better reflect their work. This could include the amount of client outreach being done, or social media traffic numbers. Adapting metrics to suit the situation allows you to have a better understanding of your business, boosts employee morale and encourages sustainable performance as a result.

Managing high long-term work performance doesn’t mean leaders need to be intimidating or expect non-stop work. In reality, the most sustainable work performance is built through a supportive work culture that cares for employee wellbeing and encourages kindness, growth, and purpose.