Building a High-Performance Organization – Part One

Results from ChainLink's 2011 Business Priorities Survey


This is the first in a three part series reporting on results from our 2011 survey of business priorities covering the critical challenges and concerns of both executives and individual contributors. The research findings explored here reveal some of the keys to building high performance organizations in 2011.


In ChainLink Research’s 2011 Business Priorities Survey, we surveyed two audiences to compare and contrast the different concerns of mangers vs. individual contributors. We also asked two kinds of questions:

Source: Image by 14995841 from Pixabay
  1. Strategic Business Priorities — many of these were broad and far-reaching questions. The responses to these questions are explored in a separate report.
  2. Role-specific Concerns — here we asked one set of questions for managers and executives, and a different set of questions for individual contributors. This article series describes the findings from these role-specific questions.

You can hear these findings in the recording of our 2011 Business Priorities Webinar which was conducted February 24th. You can also pose questions directly to the lead researchers by emailing

Research Conclusions

We found a rich set of data here that managers and executives can use in their quest to create high performance organizations:

  1. Retaining top talent is a key concern of executives. It is fueled by a talent shortage for certain key professions. There are specific steps that can be taken to retain talent.
  2. While compensation is always important, it is not on the top of the list of what employees are asking for this year. The most important things in determining employee motivation and commitment are skills development, better communications, and innovation in the organization.
  3. With improved corporate performance, we are seeing healthy increases in budgets. Given the ‘jobless’ economic recovery, we expect budget spending on innovation and technology to increase.
  4. New work styles are rising in importance. Policies and management approaches that encourage more creativity, employee empowerment, flexible work hours, and the ability to work remotely (at home), should be considered by corporations. These help build loyalty and morale.
  5. Leaders who communicate frequently and effectively, provide good educational programs and opportunities for advancement, create an innovative environment and reward their top performers should do very well in creating a competitive organization where people really want to work and are motivated to do their best.

Talent Wars and Limited Budgets — Key Concerns of Managers and Executives

We wanted to know what challenges managers are facing with regard to personnel issues, how they plan to address those issues, and what their budgets will look like this year compared to last year. Here’s what they told us.

Executives’ 2011 Personnel Challenges:

Retaining Talent, Limited Budgets

Two related items topped the list (Figure 1 below) of personnel challenges for 2011- “Limited budgets” and “Retaining and hiring talent.” The current high unemployment levels don’t necessarily mean that managers can easily find and retain the talent they need. For example, a National Science Foundation study found that in 2008, when the unemployment rate in the general population was 6.6%, the unemployment rate amongst doctorate recipients in mathematics and statistics was a mere 1.0%. If you need one of those people, it sure doesn’t feel like there is an excess of skilled employees out there. And it’s not just about level of education, but also the level of performance. Great performers, whether in sales or engineering or supply chain or other areas, are hard to find and attract, and hard to retain, even in the current climate of high unemployment in the general population.

Graph of Top Personnel Challenges for 2011
Source: Image by ChainLink Research
Figure 1 – Top Personnel Challenges for 2011

The shortage of skilled personnel is especially intense in certain sectors, such as for web software engineers. In November 2010, Google gave a 10% raise to all 23,000 of its employees because of the stiff competition for talent with other high tech firms.1 Unfortunately, not all managers have access to the kinds of financial resources available in a company like Google. For them to keep top talent at their firm requires creating an environment where employees really want to work for reasons other than just the paycheck. The good news, as we will see later in this report, is that non-pay factors can be just as powerful as the size of the paycheck.

Maintaining Morale and Motivation

Which brings us to the next priority personnel challenge — maintaining morale and motivation. This is certainly made more difficult when there are many layoffs and uncertainty in a firm. Creating the right environment and culture becomes even more critical in trying times. There are things a manager can do without a budget, such as really listening to and valuing employees’ ideas, and implementing the good ones; giving people more ownership and autonomy in their jobs; providing personal time flexibility; giving frequent encouragement and recognition for good work; and of course simply treating employees with respect — the leader sets the tone.2

Measuring and Improving Performance

Also high on the list is a challenge that will never go away as long as there are human beings doing jobs: getting people and teams to improve their performance. As supply chain practitioners, we know it’s important to carefully select the right metrics to measure performance and try to anticipate any unintended consequences.

Managing From Remote Locations

More and more teams are spread out across the globe. And these teams are often composed of employees from more than one company. Managing remote teams is not easy, but is becoming the norm. Thankfully technology, systems, and approaches are evolving to help with these challenges (see “Creating a Global Workspace”).

Rapidly Growing Organizations Have Different Challenges

Managers with the largest budget growths (>20%) ranked ‘Managing Remotely’ as a bigger challenge than either ‘Retaining Talent’ or ‘Maintaining Morale.’ It is not necessarily the case that people in those organizations have better morale because they are getting much higher salaries than their counterparts who have static or shrinking budgets. But it is much easier for employees to feel secure and get excited and motivated in an organization that is healthy and growing than in one that is stagnant or cutting back.

Further, this emphasizes that managing teams and employees remotely really is becoming a major emerging challenge for organizations. The combined trends of more telecommuting, increasingly global companies, and more outsourcing gives rise to teams that are more and more distributed, creating working groups that span continents, languages, and cultures. This is one of the key emerging challenges for managers.

In part two of this series, we will explore how executives and managers plan to address these challenges, and what their 2011 budgets look like.

1In fact, one of Google’s staff engineers was offered $3.5M in stock for staying with them instead of going to Facebook
2In some cases, one bad apple is poisoning the environment for the whole team. In that case, letting that person go may be what’s needed.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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