Company Culture

How to Connect Your Culture to Performance and Goals

Kathleen O'Donnell
April 16, 2024
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We’ve talked at length about high-performing cultures: what they are, how leadership can make or break them, and why managers are a critical element. So you know already that culture is a strategic imperative to sustain your success. 

But how do you put that theoretical knowledge about culture into action? By linking your company’s culture to your company’s goals—taking those KPIs, OKRs, or whatever acronym you prefer and linking them tightly to the personality and beating heart of your organization: your culture. 

Here’s your practical, actionable guide to the do’s and don’ts of tying your culture and goals together. 

How goal-setting supports culture 

A high-performing company culture is a thing of rarity and beauty—in a previous post, we compared it to a McLaren car vs. a reliable Toyota Camry. But even a McLaren can’t get you to a specific destination on time if you don’t have a series of guideposts to direct you on the right road and to track progress along the way. 

Those guideposts on this journey are your company’s goals—your culture provides the horsepower to get you there. Whether driving to grab a coffee from the Dunkin across town or heading out on an epic cross-country road trip, you need these guideposts to keep you updated on your whereabouts and how close you are to achieving what you set out to accomplish. 

Having a great culture isn’t enough to get you to your destination. Culture is a present-tense thing: it describes what working at your company is like right now. Goals, on the other hand, are future-oriented. And if your future is not aligned with your present, you will get lost and waste precious gas. 

By setting better goals—ones that align clearly and strongly with your culture—you can connect your current state with your future goals. Here’s how to do it (and what not to do, too). 

How to set culture-enhancing goals 

Don’t: obsess over performance 

This is going to sound counterintuitive (what do you mean, don’t focus on performance if you want good performance?!) but stay with us. 

A high-performing culture does not mean one that is focused on performance at all costs—to the contrary. An obsession with results above everything else creates a culture that disregards employee wellbeing, encourages cutting corners, and fosters a cutthroat and fearful environment. Sounds fun, right? 😬

When you’re going to set goals for your high-performing culture, don’t obsess about performance and results to the exclusion of everything else. Your KPIs/OKRs/etc are still important, and they should be a component of your goal-setting. But your goals also need to point to the key engines of your culture to be successful. 

Do: focus on the drivers of culture 

Your goals should prioritize and reward the behaviors that drive your high-performing culture. These cultures have high degrees of autonomy and accountability (we’ll touch more on that last one in a bit), so focusing on goals that promote and reward those behaviors is key. 

Plus, they prioritize getting roadblocks that hinder performance and engagement out of the way as effectively as possible, according to recent research from Bain. High-performing cultures also encourage a growth mindset, where people at every level are learning, experimenting, and offering their honest thoughts and opinions. 

Your goals must promote those behaviors while aligning them to your business goals—easier said than done, it’s true, but well worth the effort. 

You can begin to develop these goals for your organization by considering what you want to make a priority for people at each level. Maybe for leaders, you want to encourage clearing those high-level roadblocks that are standing in the way of a better organization. For managers, it’s about delivering more frequent and more constructive feedback to their teams. For individual contributors, it’s learning new skills and engaging in more experiments about the best way to get things done. 

Now you can align your goals accordingly and cross-organizational goals related to your KPIs. 

Don’t: punish failure 

When looking for ways to align culture and performance, accountability is key. Punishment, however, is not accountability, and it’s a great way to drive your culture into the ground. If your people fail to reach the goals you’ve set, this is not a time to crack the whip, but to look at the larger picture. Is there a pattern you can see at play, like similar failed efforts across the organization that point to a roadblock or a culture issue? 

If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you. If not, then you can see if the person takes accountability for falling short and comes up with a solution to do better next time. Great organizations encourage a growth culture, where mistakes and problems are seen as temporary setbacks that can be improved through learning and transparency. 

However, if someone doesn’t meet goals because they’re working against your culture, that’s cause for concern and potential consequences. Everyone must pull together to reach your high-performing culture and your goals alike.  

Do: offer support and nourishment 

While accountability and autonomy are essential pillars of a high-performing culture, they’re also not enough on their own. Companies that can balance challenging and nourishing their people will go a lot further toward their goals. 

Let’s take those managers you’re expecting to offer more feedback as a goal, for example. Simply telling them, “Give more feedback, and make it more insightful, and more constructive too,” on its own won't get results. You also need to provide them with the training they need and ensure they have enough time to be a great manager while not getting burnt out

People, especially high performers, love to be challenged appropriately. It gives them an exciting growth opportunity and a goal to grow towards. But balancing that with the nourishment they need to reach those lofty goals, to grow into those aspirations, is just as essential. 

And if you can successfully provide that balance? Your people will be loyal, engaged, and performing at their peak. That’s the power of aligning a fabulous culture and performance goals, thoughtfully and intentionally. 


When you get behind the wheel, you need to know where your destination is and how you’re going to get there. Aligning your culture with your goals makes sure your journey stays on track, and you arrive at your destination safely and efficiently (while hopefully having some fun along the way too).  

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