By Sarfraz Ali
In this article, Smartsheet’s Sarfraz Ali takes a deep dive into high-performance – what it is and what drives it, how businesses can cultivate it and ultimately, how they can harness it for success.
When you think of high performers you might think of the world’s elite athletes – scoring a screamer from outside the penalty box, winning a tennis grand slam, setting a world record on the track or topping the podium after a hard-fought grand prix.
For fans and athletes alike, these are the moments we celebrate and remember. Yet any athlete will tell you that these achievements are not reached in a vacuum, rather high performance requires months or years of hard work and dedication.
In comparison, for most of us, high performance takes place at a desk – either in our office or at home. And it’s up to business leaders to foster and cultivate an environment in which their employees are empowered to be high performers.
This brings up a few questions, namely, what does high performance in business actually mean? What are the barriers to achieving it? How can you drive it forward? And what outcomes will you achieve as a result?
To answer these, we surveyed leaders across European businesses about performance in their organisations, revealing insights about the characteristics of high performance and how it impacts clarity, adaptability, tools, and technology.
How is high performance defined
High performance is imagined in many different ways, notably it is often seen as a matter of consistency rather than a singular moment of success. Our survey respondents identified a number of characteristics that translate to high performance: more than 50% noted that self-belief and determination, strategic thinking, a willingness to collaborate, and resilience and adaptability are leading traits of high-performing individuals and teams.
High performance is the key to ongoing success. It’s not a one-time win, but a constant journey marked by smart decisions and consistent efforts. With clear goals, industry benchmarks, and continuous improvement, guided by visionary leadership, high performance becomes the secret sauce for sustained success and growth. It is all about being good at what you do, doing it consistently, and always being ready to change your plans to get the best results. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Challenges to achieving high performance
So, we know what constitutes high performance, but challenges to achieving it remain. In fact, only 15% of business leaders believe their organisations consistently achieve goals and objectives in an agreed timeframe, to the point that they could be considered high performers. More specifically, 77% of business leaders did not agree that their direct teams could consistently achieve goals and objectives in a stated timeline.
What is holding back teams and employees from being able to deliver high performance more consistently? Unclear goals and too much time spent being reactive are the most reported barriers. From our survey, around 39% felt the former and 37% felt the latter were the most common issues they face, with communication breakdowns and lack of communication coming in third with 36%.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though; three in five respondents felt their teams perform highly ‘to some extent,’ while 61% think the same of their wider organisation. Clearly there is room for improvement, but the basis is there – it’s just about dialling up the number of high performers and aligning more activity to high-performance outcomes.
Driving high performance
In the high-performance puzzle, trust and technology drive success. Trust is the foundation for savvy team decisions, while tech-powered communication and teamwork are the dynamic duo of high performance. When combined with steady leadership amongst a culture that turns failures into lessons, high-performance thrives. To foster a culture of high performance, organisations need to improve the visibility of projects. Greater visibility allows both employees and leaders to understand the state of play in their organisation.
This line of thinking was reflected by our respondents, with half believing effective communication and collaboration supported by technology supports high performance. Equally, more than half view trusting their teams to make the right decisions for the good of the team and business as vital.
It’ll take time to evolve and nurture cultural change but there are opportunities for quick wins. Namely the role of technology, it isn’t just a tool; it is a vital enabler and dynamic force to turbo-charge performance.
A resounding 80% of respondents declare tech as the key to unlocking visibility–the cornerstone of any high-performance journey. But its role extends beyond mere visibility: tech conducts the collaborative symphony (45%), orchestrates the melody of monitoring and feedback (39%), and composes the rhythm of planning and ideation (31%).
Emerging technologies like GenAI are changing the game. Their incorporation into work management tools is freeing up employees from time-consuming repetitive tasks and allowing them to focus on more strategic objectives. Automated processes can help eliminate errors and promote consistency–another bow in the cap of high performance.
Ultimately, when it comes to high performance, there is no one-size-fits-all way to unlock it. Every business, every team and employee will require a different approach depending on the type of work they do. What we do know to be true is that high performance isn’t simply something that can be achieved in one day. It might take weeks or months, but high performance is a culture you nurture, characteristics you hone, and the tools you harness for your employees and organisation.
About the Author
Sarfraz Ali, VP, EMEA: As Smartsheet’s VP and General Manager of EMEA, Sarfraz is responsible for its business operations across the region. He is leading Smartsheet’s growth and development, driving Smartsheet’s strategy to increase brand awareness. Sarfraz can speak to a range of topics, from EMEA specific insights on CWM trends and SaaS to how collaboration can drive innovation.