Company Culture: Building High Performance Teams

Building a High-Performance Company Culture

Day-to-day, employee performance is where the rubber meets the road. From the CEO to the front-line worker, employees are designing and executing the programs that drive your corporate objectives (or hurt them). Research results show that the highest performance comes from a company culture that inspires employees to WANT to perform.

How do you build that culture in the workplace? Strategic recognition of the behaviors that drive your business forward.

The Behaviors that Drive Your Business Forward

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To help employees deliver business-goal related behavior – start with three questions.

What specific behaviors will move your business forward? How do you build a company culture that encourages employees to perform better? What programs can you put in place to sustainably see more of these behaviors?

Your business will thrive or stall based on whether you know the answers to these questions.

What to Avoid When Building a Company Culture

Many companies want to invest in company culture by investing in perks. We’ve all heard stories of companies providing ping-pong tables, in-office baristas, and free catered lunches. It’s not that anyone doesn’t like those – but on their own, perks don’t drive key performance indicators (KPI’s).

Our research reviewed the leading thoughts in motivation science and shows that these external “fun” perks only work when they affect the four employee experience pillars that matter most: Meaning, Impact, Connection, or Appreciation.

Our research of more than 2,000 employees for the Employee Experience Optimized backs this up further. Of the employees worked at companies with great perks and benefits but didn’t have the building blocks of a great company culture, 70% reported a neutral employee experience at best.

On the other hand, in the Employee Experience Defined – more than 50% of employees said company culture was the most important factor in a great employee experience – more than tools, technology and environment.

What works to build a high-performance company culture? The most effective method is tying behavior to goals through employee recognition and employee rewards.

Recognition: The Company Culture Power Tool

It isn’t just millenials that crave employee recognition and appreciation. Research shows that employees of all ages perform better when they know that their work is noticed and appreciated. Gallup has shown that employees who strongly agree that they can link their goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged.

Using recognition to help make that link clearly builds positive, performance-based culture. However, having managers give recognition on a daily basis may not be part of your company culture. Here are two key ways to use employee recognition to see more of the behaviors that support your business:

    • Spontaneous, personalized, and timely recognition (from management or peers) for behaviors that support values and goals.
    • Planned incentives for routine, defined behaviors that drive strategic key performance indicators (KPI’s).

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Enhancing Workplace Culture

Here is a four-step process for building a recognition strategy for a high-performance company culture:

  • Clearly communicate core values.
  • Define company KPI’s and translate them to each department.
  • Identify specific employee actions that support those KPI’s and build incentives for those behaviors.
  • Look for everyday behaviors that support those goals and recognize them.

The Value of Core Values

Why do core values matter to company culture? Employees have a better employee experience when they know a company has core values and lives them out.

In the Employee Experience Optimized, we found that only 38% of employees had a positive employee experience when core values weren’t clearly communicated across the company. That number jumps to 83% when a company does have clearly communicated values.

In addition, those values drive employee behavior in a positive way. Delta Airlines, for example, faced a 24-hour computer outage that affected every passenger on every flight in their system. This customer service nightmare turned into a win for Delta – because the employees were so empathetic that they won positive reviews online for their customer service.

Why? Delta has a clearly communicated core value of “put yourself in the customer’s shoes” and recognizes employees who live up to that value.

Tying Behavior to KPIs

You probably have a clear set of corporate values, goals, and objectives in place, and hopefully, your team has them as well.

If so – the next step for a high-performing company culture is matching them to specific behaviors. Recognizing and reinforcing behaviors, rather than just applauding results, is transformative for teams. It is the difference between rewarding a student for getting an A versus giving them recognition for doing their homework, studying for tests, and revising their papers.

It can be hard work to tie specific behaviors to core values and corporate objectives. In many cases, it is valuable for companies to enable employees to make these ties on their own. Clearly communicating corporate goals and values, department objectives, and team deliverables tells employees when they should recognize each other’s business-driving behaviors. (You can make this easier using the Kazoo Employee Experience platform.)

Strategic Recognition

Now that you’ve generated ideas for the behaviors that will move your company forward, you’re ready to build a recognition strategy.

For the most impact on company culture, combine strategic, spontaneous recognition with planned incentives that encourage specific behavior.

There are some behaviors that you either couldn’t predict or may be a heroic single incident that supports your core values. For example: a firefighter that climbs into a tree to save a cat or the employees who cross departments to jump in and ship packages during the holiday rush.

These should get spontaneous, public recognition. At the same time, there are other day-to-day behaviors to openly encourage: taking a training course, having food service employees wash their hands more often, or cleaning up the kitchen at the end of the day so the company doesn’t have to pay a service.

Kazoo’s unique Behavior Bonus feature builds publicly visible incentives or bonuses for these actions and encourages them to happen more often.

However, having incentives that support core values is critical to prevent employees from gaming the system. For example, if you are trying to improve customer satisfaction, it may be tempting to build a bonus based on the number of calls that a service representative handles in a day. But that bonus might not encourage employees to give each call the attention it needs. Instead, a better option might be to recognize an employee for asking a customer if they feel their problem has been solved at the end of the call.

Incentives that Build Company Culture

For each incentive, ask these four questions to make sure an incentive will have the impact on company culture that you’re looking for:

  • Does the behavior support your defined objective (company, department, or team)?
  • Does the behavior reinforce both company values and the objective?
  • Are there downsides to recognizing this behavior?
  • Is this something that employees might enjoy doing without a reward? If so, consider allowing spontaneous recognition rather than building an incentive.


Strategic recognition is a powerful, proven company culture transformation tool for companies of all sizes and types. Identifying critical behavior at a team, department, and company level — and then recognizing or incentivizing employees when they use those behaviors — lets employees know exactly what they, personally, can do to help the company succeed.

Integrating recognition into your day-to-day operations (which is much more simple than it might initially seem) can transform an entire company culture. Instead of “fixing what’s wrong” within a company, each employee can instead focus on doing the right things for the business.