Developing a Self-Managed Culture

 Developing A Self-Managed, High –Performance Culture

BY Bob McHardy, C.L.U.

If you have any stake at all in the success of your enterprise, then you, like the hundreds of organizations we have worked with over the past 30 years, could likely benefit from learning how to develop a performance-based culture in your business.

Our research has told us that the key to creating a performance-based culture is to understand that while all of us are self-managers in many regards, not all of us are consistently and systematically self-managing. That is an important distinction to make since successful performance-based cultures are virtually always “self-managed” cultures – built on the belief and the understanding that self-management is the number one competency of successful people.

In self-managing cultures, making and keeping commitments to the critical success factors of the job is a given. If you boiled it down to a process, self-management in a performance culture would look like this:

  • Employees determine their own goals, objectives and expectations;
  • Figure out their game plan or action steps;
  • Make the commitment to the plan and action steps;
  • Keep the commitment;
  • Self-reinforce on the kept commitment;
  • Evaluate their performance and results;
  • Seek resources for improvement


To understand the performance equation, try thinking of performance as a function of Talent x Habits x Opportunity, as shown in the diagram here.

Inherent talent, which includes such characteristics as I.Q., personality and common sense, tends to remain constant in most individuals over time, regardless of how much training they may or may not receive. Trainable talent, on the other hand, is learned and includes such attributes as knowledge and skills. For obvious reasons, talent can be referred to as the “can do” aspect of performance.

The habits component of the equation – a person’s attitude and effort – makes up the all-important “will do” aspect of performance. The opportunity element refers to a person’s fit to the job, to the overall job environment and to their manager.

Where all three elements of this performance equation are present in good measure with an individual, it is virtually guaranteed that you have a high performer on your hands.


Here is where the performance equation starts to get interesting. Although ‘performance’ is not the same thing as ‘results’, there is a strong correlation between the two in that good performance will tend to deliver good results. But where-as results are essentially uncontrollable, trainable talent and habits are almost completely controllable. That is the important distinction because a basic condition of successful performance cultures is a strong focus on controllables.

So when we ask people in our seminars and workshops, “Who has responsibility for an employee’s talent?” the answer invariably is that the responsibility is “shared” between the company, the manager and the employee. Our seminar participants also readily confirm that the opportunity component of performance is also “shared” responsibility. However, when we ask about responsibility for the employee’s “will do”, there begins lively discussion and debate. How you respond to the question is a likely indicator of the approach you normally take in dealing with employees’ “will do” (ie. attitude and effort).

Because the “will do” component of performance is so critical to overall performance (managers are almost unanimous in feeling that it is the major factor in an employee’s failure and success), it creates a very real challenge for leaders and managers who are used to trying to make people work, through exhaustive coaxing or external motivating strategies.   Yet, in a true performance culture, employees are not only allowed, but expected, to manage their own attitudes and efforts to motivate themselves and to take responsibility for their actions – in other words, to self-manage. In these self – managing cultures, the indirect managers are the coaches and consultants focusing on knowledge and skill development, planning, strategizing and creating effective business processes.


The key concepts discussed here translate into real-life business practice, in part, in the following ways:

  • Candidates for employment are screened and selected on the basis of their self-management potential, just as much as they are hired for their experience, skill and knowledge.
  • From the first day of employment, expectations are clear that people are required to be self-managers, and are respected and coached as such.
  • Training on self-management occurs early in the career, which not only provides the education and the understanding, but also strengthens expectations.
  • The concepts and principles of self-management form the basis behind all corporate processes and routines, such as weekly and monthly reviews, performance appraisals and individual employee work standards.
  • All employees are provided with regular training as well as growth and development opportunities.
  • Self-development is emphasized and mentorship is encouraged.
  • People are held accountable for results but responsible for performance.
  • Managers manage by effort rather than results only.
  • Commitments are made and kept (not only external commitments, those made to others, but also self-commitments, the commitments people make to themselves).

Utilizing the power of “self-commitment” and the expectation that all of your people can be self-managers, is the real driver of performance-based cultures and one that any business organization can learn and adopt.

Check with Smart Work | Network to learn more about building high-performance cultures in sales, customer service or any type of enterprise,big or small.

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