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A high performance culture in the long term (3/4)

This article is part three in a series detailing CharlieHR's journey towards a culture of high performance.

For context - the first two posts are available here: Part 1, Part 2.

In recent months we have been on a real journey to build a culture where our people can thrive and deliver their best results.

This piece outlines how we’re thinking about continuing to build on that work in a way that not only maintains our new standards and expectations, but consistently has us reaching out for more.

The theory: high performers keep getting better

Truly great performers never stop. The world’s best cyclist or violinist doesn’t call it quits once they’re at the top of their game, they keep on pushing for more. Their standards are not driven by some arbitrary level, but by the innate obsession to be the absolute best they can be.

We believe the same applies to developing high performance in the team we have at Charlie. On each occasion that we achieve our goal, we reset and go again to aim for something new. Something bigger. Something that will continue to stretch us. There is no finish line.

Charlie currently uses OKRs as our framework for setting objectives and planning work. Each OKR cycle, we push harder to improve our performance level, and at the end of that period we rest. We break through our current “sustainable” performance level to grow into the unknown and, when we take a break, we return to a new, higher constant. Our “new normal”. Each cycle we follow the same process so our new normal increases each time.

Our performance over time graph

In exactly the same way, our High Performance Behaviours process should improve and evolve as we learn so we can provide the best environment for our people to continue to push themselves and raise their new normal. We’re always thinking about how we do this.

Evolving our high performance culture

As with all things worth doing - we don’t know all the answers yet - but we have started to line up the key questions that we’re exploring and hope to continue sharing our theories for how to answer them.

How can we find opportunities to further define our behaviour so expectations can become even clearer?

We’ve learnt that clarity of expectations is the lifeblood of driving high performance. Already we know that taking the time to collectively outline and what “good” behaviours look like is useful. Could we also do the opposite? Describe clearly what “poor” looks like, so we can be informative not just about what to do but also what not to?

How do we do more to champion individual progress and standout behaviours?

An important element of any feedback process is publicly calling people out for success, not simply because it’s important to recognise progress but also because it continues to demonstrate to everyone what “good” looks like and reinforce the standard and example that’s expected.

How can we make the behaviours each individual is working on more visible?

It’s clear that the more we understand the behaviours our colleagues are working on, the easier it is to help them... give them feedback where you identify the wrong behaviours and encourage them when you see them demonstrating progress. Short of everyone wearing badges (!), how do we make them more present in every meeting and conversation?

What more could we do to bring these behaviours to life within the business?

If we should be continuing to invest in our individual development of these behaviours - above and beyond the daily team tasks we have to execute - it’s important we find ways to keep them front of mind. Any new initiative, however compelling, will pass its honeymoon period eventually, so we must find new ways to ensure the conversation is continuous and doesn’t turn stale. We’re currently finding books and scientific studies that can offer up interesting reading and references for each behaviour.

Can we build team pairs to help everyone help each other?

One person’s weakness is another person’s superpower. How could we match people so that they can better learn from each other? That might develop a more regular peer support/feedback approach - on top of Ben’s coaching sessions - as well as present a potential solution to how we scale those weekly one-on-ones.

How do we hire for high performing behaviours?

We need to develop a bank of questions/tasks that we can set in the interview process to identify which high performing behaviours might be weaknesses and which strengths. It’s important to remember that weaknesses/strengths are relative in each person, so we should perhaps review if there’s a minimum expectation we require for each behaviour. Similarly, we need to decide how important we should hold these in the hiring process and how “coachable” these behaviours really are for everyone.

How do we onboard new hires effectively so they understand the importance of these behaviours and the process we use to develop them?

Many of the existing team members are at an advantage. They’ve been included in the entire process of developing and integrating high performing behaviours, and so have an understanding that’s far more advanced. We need to ensure we onboard people effectively. We also need to recognise that the behaviours selected were not a universal set of what we believe to be important, and that some areas that seem implicit if you’ve been in the company for some time may still require reinforcement for new hires.

"I would add something around feedback/honesty/candour/etc to the high performance behaviours list - I think it's not there just because it's implicit to most of us, but it would help new joiners to have it spelled out. Alex (Head of Engineering)

Can we implement high performing behaviours for teams?

So far, we have only focused on an individual basis, but high performing individuals are useless in dysfunctional teams. We must start to determine what high performing teams looks like and therefore how we can make the most of individual talents by operating our teams most effectively.

Would some external insight/perspective be valuable?

Given it was an external investor whose comments first inspired this process, we shouldn’t forget the importance of fresh eyes. I imagine that someone newer to the team and the culture we’ve been attempting to build could be a valuable benchmark and spot weaknesses where we’ve been blind.

I'd have someone external to push me on them - that would really help from a perspective standpoint. Matt (Product Designer)

In the final part of this series, we're tying up loose ends – we'll be trying to answer the fundamental question that every team leader will ask themselves at some point: "Can you be nice and make people work hard?"