From high potential to high performance

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Guest blogger and Thomas client, Phil Ferrar of People Academy shares his thoughts and experience with developing top talent through culture change and maintaining levels of employee engagement.

Over the past few years, People Academy has been privileged to work with many organisations, worldwide, helping them shape and implement culture change using Thomas tools and solutions.

Each organisation was faced with their own unique mix of challenges and opportunities, where people’s behaviour has been the key to real and lasting change. In every case it’s leadership and how leaders behave that made the difference between success and failure.

Left to itself, organisational culture will find its own level. It requires vision, purpose, clarity, alignment, engagement, commitment and persistence to create and maintain a 'success culture' - in a word, leadership. Or, you could leave it to chance. 

The leadership team itself and its employees are still left to work out ‘how we do things around here’ themselves. So, the importance of clarity around WGLL should not be underestimated. The aim of the leadership team should be to forge a clear ‘contract’ for how they behave that they can all sign up to. Whereas a vision or mission statement is a clarion call, these can become merely a poster gathering dust on a wall, unless it’s embedded in a change campaign.


Change, real and sustained change, requires a campaign approach to embed any new behaviour. There are real parallels here with an advertising campaign. Deliver your message and keep delivering it again and again, varying and refreshing the delivery but not the message. A change campaign needs to be planned and managed, flexible enough to allow for tactical adjustments as the landscape changes, which it will.

Success depends upon the leadership team owning and embodying the campaign, acting as custodians throughout, steering and making necessary adjustments to its path without departing from the message and the ultimate goal. The changes identified as campaign critical should be measured, usually requiring employee surveys, perhaps 360 degree feedback, stakeholder surveys and other methods.

Communication with employees (not just ‘to’) and stakeholders repeatedly and throughout, is key. Kotter, in his ‘8 Step Process for Leading Change’ cites ‘under communication’ as one of the main reasons why organisational change attempts fail. Adopting a sense of ‘collective cabinet responsibility’ is paramount; any diversion from the path by a leader is likely to cause disharmony and will undermine the campaign and its success. 


It’s tempting for leadership teams to ‘tell’ employees WGLL, having invested in this exercise themselves – “after all, we’re leaders, they’re followers” – but this deeply flawed when it comes to achieving real and lasting change. Ultimately, for the change to succeed, it requires people doing something different.

It’s not just about communicating change…it requires people to sign up and undertake the arduous process of real behaviour change, which can be unsettling for many. To work in the broader community, there has to be a clear understanding of what change is needed by them (their WGLL), believe in it, and summon up the sustained self-motivation required to see it through. Engagement of the wider community is crucial and leaders must focus on how they create the conditions for this to occur.


A world-class brand, and world-class product… not much need for change at BMW. However, the UK board saw things differently. Taking a leaf from the All Blacks world-beating philosophy, they subscribed to the view “When you’re at the top of your game, change your game!”

They recognised that the workplace of the future is going to be unrecognisable compared to that of today, that technological change is occurring exponentially, and that a fresh approach to management and leadership will be required.

In 2014, with our help, they embarked on a change campaign to touch the very heart and soul of leadership, to transform the way managers are perceived and the kind of relationships that exist between employee and employer. In 2016, the campaign continued momentum, with a People Academy programme for managers to develop ‘Authentic Leadership’ and to help managers develop their leadership philosophy. The campaign has played a pivotal role in shaping a High Performance Culture for the future.


The driver for culture change was the recognition that, although Team USA had some of the world’s best sports coaches and performance directors, there was scope for achieving even higher levels of performance by developing their ‘people acuity’ and agility in the way they engage with stakeholders.

We worked with cohorts of Olympic coaches to release the untapped potential in all of them, to become more effective and develop real mastery of the People Dimension. The results have been astoundingly positive. The ultimate test will be how this translates into medals and performances at the Rio and Pyeong Chang Olympics.

From high potential to high performance - a masterclass

This September, we're hosting a masterclass where you will discover a range of innovative people development solutions which you can efficiently and effectively embed into your organisation. For more information and to register, click here.