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The Performance Curve

Culture is king

Peter Drucker said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. And according to The Conference Board CEO Challenge:

“The cultural DNA of an organization is critical to success, from operational efficiency to better customer service, to greater talent attraction and retention, to higher levels of business performance and breakthroughs in innovation.”

We could not agree more: culture is key, although it seems that very few organizations take a proactive approach to creating and measuring their culture.

This is why we developed The Performance Curve.

Introducing The Performance Curve

The Performance Curve | Performance Consultants International

The Performance Curve focuses on the collective prevailing mindset of an organization’s culture and how this creates the conditions for performance. It provides a useful tool for organizations and individual leaders to gain an immediate idea of where they are operating, either from the perspective of “this is the culture of my organization” or “this is the culture I create as a leader”.

Each stage on The Performance Curve follows the process of individual psychological development:

  • It starts with a reactive, short-term “Whatever happens, happens” way of being (Impulsive).
  • Then it progresses to a Dependent state of “following the rules”, typified by command and control behaviours such as judgement and blame.
  • Next is the Independent stage which can be high-performing but carries the risk that it is too individualist.
  • The ultimate stage is Interdependence, a collective mentality supported by emotionally intelligent leaders.

Different parts of an organization can operate on different parts of the curve at the same time. You can use this awareness to see what needs to change in order to improve performance. Each incremental shift in mindset toward interdependence leads to improved performance.

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Defining “performance”

The Performance Curve incorporates the broader interpretation of “performance” that many organizations have adopted in recent years. Competition and growth are no longer the only drivers – stability, sustainability, and collaboration are also important factors.

A high-performance culture is often described as a “collective mentality” where there is a strong community spirit and collaboration around a shared sense of purpose. This interdependent culture, where people are able to grow and fulfil their potential, is the most highly evolved as seen on The Performance Curve.

Leaders set the tone

In organizations, the leaders set the tone for everybody else. Studies by the Hay Group have shown they are the greatest influence on an organization’s culture and bottom-line performance, which they can affect by as much as 30%.

Moving from hierarchy to coaching fosters learning and responsibility

In a dependent culture, people follow rules. The prevailing mindset of leaders and managers here is “if only they would do what I tell them” which leads to blame and judgment. When we think someone has done something wrong, the natural human tendency is to criticize or blame. In organizations this manifests in broken relationships and blocked learning which creates the conditions for lower performance.

When leaders cease to blame, interferences like fear and self-doubt decrease. When leaders replace blame with the interdependent behaviours of curiosity and partnering, creativity and collaboration can flourish as people trust in themselves and each other.

Attributes of a high-performance culture

As Sir John Whitmore said, “Coaching is bigger than coaching”. A coaching style of leadership is the enabler for a high-performance culture because it shifts the organizational mindset to interdependence.

As the overriding leadership style changes from directing to coaching, the culture of the organization begins to change. Hierarchy gives way to partnership and collaboration, blame gives way to honest evaluation and learning. External motivators are replaced by self-motivation, protective barriers fall as teams build. Change is no longer feared but welcomed, satisfying the boss becomes pleasing the customer. Secrecy and censorship are replaced by openness and honesty, pressure of work becomes challenging work, and short-term fire-fighting reactions give way to longer-term strategic thinking.

Old cultureNew culture
Imposed rulesInner values
Control of natureNatural sytems
Coaching for Performance © Sir John Whitmore and Performance Consultants

Changing culture can be a challenge

There are challenges to changing an organization’s culture, even if there is a clear view and agreement of the benefits of a more mature and evolved state. It can push people out of their comfort zone, especially as empowering their people and giving them ownership can feel like losing power for leaders. However, they soon find they get this back in multiple from a team that is empowered and responsible and operating in a more agile way that is responsive to customers.

An interdependent mindset equals a high-performance mindset

Maslow in his hierarchy of needs described the conditions for self-actualization, which correlate to interdependence. And Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said: “As we look at the terrain ahead, we see that we are entering a whole new dimension. Whether you are the president of a company or the janitor, the moment you step from independence into interdependence in any capacity, you step into a leadership role.”

The invitation is for leaders to develop themselves to be able to lead interdependent organizations in which people can grow and fulfill their potential. By enabling an interdependent culture, organizations tap into the potential of every employee and change the very relationship between employees and organizations. This is the cutting edge of coaching and organizational development.

The Performance Curve – a deep dive

The Performance Curve identifies and describes four overarching cultures within organizations, and each culture – Impulsive, Dependent, Independent, Interdependent – is represented by an overall cultural mindset. Each mindset creates distinct organizational characteristics and returns a certain level of performance.


Minimal awareness of culture, impact, performance and responsibility. The organization reacts to situations as they arise and it can feel unpredictable. There is little communication, engagement or development. There can be a “survival” mentality.


Low-medium awareness and responsibility. The organization is focused on maintaining stability and following the rules. Individuals focus on process and task completion with little opportunity for autonomy. Strong sense of group identity; people feel the need to fit in. There is strong one-way communication and varying levels of recognition. There is low engagement and trust which creates a “risk averse” mentality.


Medium-high awareness; high responsibility for own performance. The organization supports innovation and individual development. People believe they can make a difference with their own actions. Individuals may focus on achieving own goals above those of the team or organization. Work-life balance may be hard to reach due to the high level of internal competition. Two-way communication and engagement is more likely. There is an “achievement” mentality.


High awareness and responsibility for self and others. There is a strong coaching culture. Teams feel a strong sense of ownership for high performance and believe this can only be achieved by the group. People engage with others to understand diverse view points and display high levels of trust, care and collaboration. There is continual authentic communication and feedback. This creates a “collective potential” mentality.

meeting your needs

How can you bring a coaching leadership style into your organization?

Sir John and his colleagues at Performance Consultants were the first to take coaching into the workplace and coined the term “performance coaching” in the early 1980s. We continue to lead the field in performance improvement through coaching leadership training.

Select one of the options shown. Or get in touch and one of our world-class leadership development consultants will work with you to create a tailored programme that meets your specific needs.

  • Attend a Coaching Course – experience the benefits of coaching first hand. See our Global Training Calendar to find the right course for you
  • Transformational Leader Pathway – learn how to be a leader–coach with a coaching leadership style that creates a culture of high performance for you, your team and entire organization
  • Performance Coach Certification – become a coach or take your coaching skills to the next level so that you can practise transformational leadership coaching
  • Individual Coaching (1:1) – take your leadership to the next level with a tailored, fast-track professional development coaching programme
  • Team Development – unlock the next level of potential in your team with team coaching