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This chapter is from the book

A High Performing Organization SCORES Every Time

Provider of choice, employer of choice, and investment of choice—the three elements of the triple bottom line—form the right target. If you aim for only one of the three elements, you won’t hit the target, and your organization won’t be able to sustain high performance. Once leaders understand the importance of the target, questions naturally arise, such as "What is a high performing organization?" and "What does a high performing organization that hits the target look like?"

To answer these questions, Don Carew, Fay Kandarian, Eunice Parisi-Carew, and Jesse Stoner conducted an extensive research project to define and identify the characteristics of a high performing organization.2 Their first step was to define "high performing organization." While many organizations rise quickly and then plateau or topple, some continue to thrive, somehow reinventing themselves as needed. The researchers focused on these kinds of organizations, creating the following definition:

High performing organizations are enterprises that over time continue to produce outstanding results with the highest level of human satisfaction and commitment to success.

Because of their flexibility, nimbleness, and responsive systems, high performing organizations (HPOs) remain not only successful and respected today but also poised to succeed in the future. HPOs demonstrate results consistently over time.


As a result of their research, Drs. Carew, Kandarian, Parisi-Carew, and Stoner created the HPO SCORES model. SCORES is an acronym that represents the six elements evident in every high performing organization. A high performing organization SCORES—hits the target consistently—because it demonstrates strength in each of these six elements. The following pages describe these elements in greater detail.

S = Shared Information and Open Communication

In high performing organizations, information needed to make informed decisions is readily available to people and is openly communicated. Sharing information and facilitating open communication builds trust and encourages people to act like owners of the organization. Information is power. The more readily available information is, the more empowered and able people are to make solid decisions aligned with the organization’s goals and values. Open communication is the lifeblood of the organization. Encouraging dialogue lessens the danger of territoriality and keeps the organization healthy, agile, flexible, and fluid.

C = Compelling Vision

A compelling vision is the hallmark of a high performing organization. It answers the question "What’s the point?" When everyone supports such an organizational vision—including purpose, picture of the future, and values—it creates a deliberate, highly focused culture that drives the desired business results toward a greater good. In these organizations, people are energized by, excited about, and dedicated to such a vision. They can describe the vision, are deeply committed to it, and clearly see their role in supporting it. They have a noble sense of purpose that creates and focuses energy. As a result, their personal values are aligned with the values of the organization. They can describe a clear picture of what they intend to create. Everyone is aligned and going in the same direction.

O = Ongoing Learning

High performing organizations constantly focus on improving their capabilities through learning systems, building knowledge capital, and transferring learning throughout the organization. Organizational learning is different from individual learning. High performing organizations engage in both. Everyone is always striving to get better, both individually and as an organization.

R = Relentless Focus on Customer Results

No matter what industry they are in, high performing organizations understand who their customer is and measure their results accordingly. They produce outstanding results, in part because of an almost obsessive focus on results. However, what is unique is the way in which they focus on those results: from the viewpoint of the customer.

E = Energizing Systems and Structures

The systems, structures, processes, and practices in high performing organizations are aligned to support the organization’s vision, strategic direction, and goals. This makes it easier for people to get their jobs done. Energizing systems and structures provide the platform for rapid response to obstacles and opportunities. The bottom-line test of whether the systems and structures are energizing is to look at whether they help people accomplish their jobs more easily or make them more difficult.

S = Shared Power and High Involvement

In high performing organizations, power and decision making are shared and distributed throughout the organization, not guarded at the top of the hierarchy. Participation, collaboration, and teamwork are a way of life. When people feel valued and respected for their contributions, are allowed to make decisions that impact their lives, and have access to information to make good decisions, they can and will function as valuable contributors to the purpose and vision of the organization. In high performing organizations, a sense of personal and collective power exists.

High performing organizations use the best of what people have to offer for the common end. Centralized power and authority are balanced with participation and do not become obstacles to agility and responsiveness. When people are clear about goals and standards and have clear boundaries of autonomy, they act with commitment toward accomplishing results.

Leadership Is the Engine

If becoming a high performing organization is the destination, leadership is the engine. While the HPO SCORES model describes the characteristics of a high performing organization, leadership is what moves the organization in that direction.

In high performing organizations, the role of formal leadership is radically different from traditional organizations. High performing organizations do not rely on cultivating a great, charismatic leader but on building a visionary organization that endures beyond the leader. The role of leadership shifts from privileged status and power for its own sake toward a more complex, participative, long-term process. As this book will continually emphasize, once leaders establish the vision, they assume the attitude and behavior of a servant leader. Because they are so important, the attitudes and actions of servant leadership are discussed in detail in Chapter 12, "Servant Leadership."

In high performing organizations, leadership practices support collaboration and involvement. Leadership is assumed at every level of the organization. Top leaders live the organization’s values. They embody and encourage a spirit of inquiry and discovery. They help others think systematically. They act as teachers and lifelong learners. They are visible in their leadership and have the strength to stand firm on strategic business decisions and values. They keep everyone’s energy focused on the bull’s-eye of excellence.

In high performing organizations, leadership is not the province of formal leaders alone; leadership emerges everywhere. Individuals with expertise come forward as needed throughout the organization. High performing organizations do not depend on a few peak performers to guide and direct; rather, they have broadly developed leadership capabilities. This allows for self-management, ownership, and the power to act quickly as the situation requires.

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