The 6 Essential Keys to a High-Performing Improvement Organization

In previous articles we discussed the starting point of high-performing improvement organizations- a Mission grounded in relentlessly adding value to customers, eliminating waste that unnecessarily consumes resources, and creating extraordinary benefits to all the organization’s stakeholders, over time and changing market circumstances. Now let’s explore 6 keys or elements that are necessary to building this high-performing culture of improvement in the organization and creating this kind of performance.

After all, much literature has been generated with claims to have insight into the search for high performance. Some of the claims have been helpful and some not[1]. Some models for a culture of improvement appear to omit key elements and focus on the “paraphernalia”. Our view comes from personal studies of high performing organizations, practical experience with organizations of all types and sizes, and literature review of a wide variety of topics including models of improvement, people engagement and leadership[2].

Think of them as essentials that together help unlock an organization to create long-term extraordinary performance. All of them are necessary and one, People, is more important than all the rest. The elements are more than a conceptual framework; each can be diagnosed for gaps by examining the evidence of behaviors that exist in an organization, identifying root causes, and making improvements. Remember that simple knowledge of what helps to drive high performance does nothing by itself- success also requires the conviction to change and skill in doing so.


Want more detail and see some organizations on their journey?
Take a look at their Improvement Culture video.

Listed below are the 6 elements for high-performing improvement and a checklist of characteristics for you to evaluate using observations and evidence from your own organization. After you do, share with us your biggest gaps (and remember “problems are gold”)!

So, how did you do?  As you evaluate what may be gaps and their root causes, remember that –

  1. The creation of a high performing improvement organization relies most importantly on unlocking the capacity of its PEOPLE – without them it does not exist
  2. ALL of the elements are necessary in order to create a high-performing improvement organization – LEADERSHIP, FOCUS, LEARNING, IMPLEMENTATION, AND METHODS help initiate, guide and enable the environment of high performance
  3. Lastly, all the elements must be made real – simply talking about them or providing superficial treatment will not create substance

When you put all the elements together and make them real, however, you can achieve sustainable and long term results beyond historical norms and perhaps even beyond what is thought possible!


Next time, let’s take a deeper look at the most important element of a High-Performing Improvement Organization: PEOPLE


Continual Impact LLC, 2018

[1] “Hard Facts – Dangerous half-truths and total nonsense”; Pfeffer and Sutton

[2] “The High Performing Learning Organization”; Vitalo, Byron, Bierley, Holmberg