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At our recent Spark Session roundtable, the theme was building high-performing teams – the leaders that inspire them, the benefits of investing in them, and tips for fostering them. And our speaker lineup did not disappoint: Rachel Huckle, Chief Retail Officer at Staples Canada, Sarah Jordan, Chief Executive Officer at Mastermind Toys, and our own Lindsey Goodchild, Chief Executive Officer here at Nudge

Here are 6 of our favourite takeaways from the discussion 👇

1. The key to leading high-performing teams? Authenticity. 

The panel discussed leading teams through the past two years of the pandemic, and how a new type of leader has emerged: the authentic leader. 

“One thing that I’ve learned during the pandemic is that authentic leaders are finally being recognized for what they are – badass and needed,” explained Sarah Jordan. “There was no playbook during the pandemic. There was a real need for leaders to be authentic. They needed to lead with strength, but also empathy; courage, but also compassion.” 

And according to Rachel Huckle, leaders of high-performing teams also have a knack for agility. 

“Leadership of high performing teams is not a binary thing,” she said. “You aren’t one thing or the other, you are many things. So how you show up as a leader is going to change, and as a leader you need to be agile. You need to be flexible and, I would argue, you need to be anticipatory.”

2. The cost of low performance (or a lack of high performance!) can’t be overstated

“Instead of what investing in high performance gives you, let’s talk about what not investing in it brings you,” said Huckle. “It is expensive. It is costly and your ability to be agile is next to none. You will spend a lot of money in rework. You will not have a culture where people are inspired and engaged to bring their best every single day. And it will take its toll on a culture.”

And more so, Huckle warned that if all this leads to even just one low-performing worker in an otherwise high-performing group, and you don’t have the tools to deal with it… you’ve got a recipe for disaster. “There are prices to be paid,” she said. “Because you’re not leading effectively.”

3. You need to define what high performance means to your organization

The key to fostering high-performing teams? Know what high performance means to your organization. “When I think about high performing teams, one thing that’s been really important during the pandemic is really being clear on the priorities,” explained Jordan. “For the first time last year we launched cultural goals. And those became really important to tell high performers and teams what great looks like – not from financial metrics, not from customer metrics – but from how we want you to behave.”

In other words: high performance needs planning and culture. “A high performing team starts with strategy and having a clear roadmap of where you’re headed, but it comes to life through culture and execution,” said Jordan. 

4. Transparency is key (even when you don’t have the answers)

“Clarity, vision, strategy, culture, engagement, vulnerability, leadership…all of those things unlock the potential of your workforce,” said Huckle, adding that there’s one more crucial ingredient in cooking up high-performing teams: transparency.

“When we didn’t know and we didn’t have the answers, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Huckle. “And sometimes I said, ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to make sure I take care of you. And then these are the things that I’m going to be thinking about to help us navigate this.’ And the support I think that I heard was just, ‘We didn’t know either, but at least you’re being honest with us and we could trust that.’ And that was big – the trust component.”

5. A key component of fostering high performance: being present

All of our panelists agreed that another critical component to fostering high performance, particularly during a crisis like the pandemic, was being present with staff, and actively listening. 

“Through the pandemic, we’ve lost a lot of that human interaction and we’ve been unclear on how we can connect with each other. But when you’re a leader and you’re trying to inspire high performance, you need to walk the talk. You need to visit your stores. You need to get to know the customers,” said Jordan. “And as a leader, you set that tone. So when was the last time you visited your stores? When was the last time you interacted with your employees? When was the last time you did a Town Hall with every single cohort? Have you seen those individuals? Have you thanked them? Have you inspired them? Have you listened to them?”

That active listening is also about making sure your teams are getting what they need.

“When we had to just focus our efforts on safety in our stores, we put aside some work and we listened,” said Huckle. “It was key to listen and this is where Nudge helped us from a two-way dialogue perspective. I could, in real time, hear what people were thinking, feeling, sensing, and we would lead with some questions to help them bring that back. And that was pivotal, because it actually informed some of the decisions I would make on what I needed to do to make sure these folks are getting what they need to deliver in the moment and to drive performance overall.”

6. High performance starts with preparedness

At Nudge, we love numbers. So it’s no surprise that Lindsey Goodchild brought a little data to the discussion of what drives high performance. 

“We’ve been looking at what kind of patterns we can decipher from teams that are doing really great things and performing really well,” she explained. “We’ve recognized that workforces that are very prepared and very ready, tend to perform well.”

So if high performance starts with preparedness, how do you drive preparedness?

“When the team is really aware of what’s going on and they have clear direction, whether it’s around some new sales initiative or new customer experience initiative, whatever it is, if they have a really solid understanding of what’s coming and why it matters and what their job within that role is – when it’s time to execute, they’ll be ready to go,” said Goodchild. “Sometimes it’s just those small actions of building up that knowledge, making sure people have information ahead of time, dripping that in digestible forms – and then when it’s go-time, they know exactly what they need to do.”