In order to unravel the secret of HPOs, the HPO Center studied the characteristics of excellent organizations all over the world for five years. The objective was to give managers the knowledge and opportunity to implement targeted measures in order to allow their organization to develop into a High Performance Organization (or High Performance Business). In order to determine the distinguishing characteristics, more than 290 international studies were examined that were conducted over the past 30 years in the area of high performance. The characteristics that were observed the most often in the studies were then tested with the aid of a questionnaire in a worldwide study 1,470 organizations in the for-profit, non-profit and government sectors. The objective of this was to distinguish the most important characteristics.
From each study those elements were identified that were indicated by the authors as being important for an organization to become an HPO. Because different authors often used different naming conventions, similar elements were combined under one characteristic. Then it was calculated how often a characteristic occurred in the 290 studies, whereby the rule was that the more often a characteristic was named, the more important the potential of this characteristic was. This yielded 189 potential HPO characteristics, in other words: characteristics that may determine whether an organization will become and remain an HPO. Then a “weighted value” was calculated for all characteristics by keeping in mind the study category in which the characteristic occurred. In this rating system, A studies were weighted as more important than B studies, which in turn were weighted as more important than C studies. This yielded 89 characteristics with a weighted value that was clearly higher than that of the remaining 100 characteristics. This method of distinguishing potential HPO characteristics was validated by a research colleague at Cranfield University who came up with nearly the same list of 89 characteristics.
Subsequently the 89 determined characteristics were included in a questionnaire that was distributed worldwide during workshops, presentations and lectures. There the participant was asked to indicate how well their organization performed in regard to each characteristic on a scale of 1 to 10. They were also asked to indicate how well the organization performed over the last three years compared to the competition (for for-profit organizations) or comparable organizations (for non-profit and government organizations) and to make a list with a maximum of 10 competitors or comparable organizations and to indicate whether these performed better or worse than their own organization. Applying this subjective measurement method of an organization’s relative performance is considered valid in the scientific world because it has been proven that the subjective measurement method has a strong correlation with the objective measurement method of an organization’s relative performance (whereby the financial data of an organization and all of its competitors are collected and compared). With the aid of statistical analysis, those characteristics were determined that exhibit a correlation with the performance of an organization. There appeared to be 35 of these. Using a factor analysis, these characteristics were then clustered into five factors that exhibit a direct and strong correlation with the competitive performance and that therefore determine whether an organization is or is not an HPO.
The difference in approach with researchers such as Peters and Waterman and Jim Collins (Good to Great) is big. These researchers, and many others, made a selection, based on financial analyses, of organizations that perform well or excellently in a certain sector and then compared them to competitors that did not perform as well. It is from this comparison that they then determined the distinguishing characteristics. The weak point of this approach is the first selection: if this is not made carefully, the validity of all other study results can be impugned. And there is always an element of coincidence: Was the correct information available, was the selection made based on the right criteria, were the good organizations compared to the bad ones correctly? In the study approach that the Center for Organizational Performance used it was not organizations that were selected but potential HPO characteristics. In doing so, a very broad meta-analysis was conducted in which studies from as many scientific disciplines as possible were involved and the professional literature was thoroughly studied. This guarantees that a wide range of elements – such as structure, human, emotional, strategic and material aspects, resources and HRM – have been included in the study. No selection of respondents was made for the questionnaire either; they were randomly selected by participating in workshops that the Center held all over the world. Due to this the study has the broadest basis of all HPO studies that have been conducted until now (for more information about the differences between e.g. Good to Great, Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, Great Place to Work (GPTW) and EFQM model follow this link).
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