High Performance Organization (HPO)

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High Performance Organization: this article describes the framework of a High Performance Organization (HPO), developed by Andre de Waal in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful management approach.

High Performance Organization

As it is the task of managers to realize the goals of the organization by achieving outstanding performance in the organizational unit they are responsible for, managers are under great pressure to deal effectively with the current business environment.

They however suffer from a chronic lack of time because of the numerous demands on them and they therefore need a strong focus on what really matters in order to improve the effectiveness of their organizations.

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Thus there is a strong interest among managers in identifying the characteristics of high performance and the actions needed to be taken, to help them in their quest for greater organizational effectiveness. And this higher performance has to be sustainable because manager do not only want to make their organizations become better but – even more difficult – stay better for a long period of time.

But, as every sports person can tell you, “It is not that difficult to get to the top, staying there is the hard part!” Thus, in the past decades managers all over the world have been frantically trying out many different improvement concepts, but with mixed results. None of the approaches have resulted in a universal management model that can be applied in different organizational settings with proven results.

In fact, many famous management theories – like In Search Of Excellence, Good To Great and The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People – have turned out be scientifically shaky and built on quicksand.

In contrast, the High Performance Organization (HPO) Framework has been developed on the basis of a ten-year rigorous scientific study.

What is the High Performance Organization (HPO) Framework?

The HPO Framework is a conceptual, scientifically validated structure which practitioners can use for deciding what to do to improve organizational performance and make it sustainable. The HPO Framework consists of five factors and 35 underlying components.

The HPO research showed that there is a direct and positive relationship between the five HPO factors and competitive performance: the higher the scores on the HPO factors (HPO scores), the better the results of the organization, and the lower the HPO scores the lower the competitive performance.
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These are the five HPO factors:

1. Management Quality

HPO managers focus on encouraging belief and trust from their employees in them. They value loyalty and live with integrity; they treat their employees respectfully and maintain individual relationships with them.

HPO managers are highly committed to the organization and have a strong set of ethics and standards. They are supportive and help employees in achieving results, and also hold them accountable for these results. HPO managers are role models for the rest of the organization.

2. Openness and Action Orientation

HPO managers value the opinions of employees and always involve them in important business and organizational processes. Making mistakes and taking risks are always encouraged in a High Performance Organization, as these are considered valuable opportunities to learn, to develop new ideas, and to exchange knowledge in pursuit of collective improvement.

3. Long-Term Orientation

For a HPO, long-term commitment is more important than short-term gain. Stakeholders of the organization benefit from this long-term orientation, and are assured that the organization is maintaining mutually beneficial long-term relationships with them.

HPO managers are committed to the organization and new positions are filled from within the organization. A HPO is a secure and safe workplace where people feel free to contribute to the best of their ability.

4. Continuous Improvement and Renewal

A HPO has a unique strategy that makes the organization stand out in its sector. It is responsive to market developments by continuously innovating its products and services, thus creating new sources of competitive advantage. A HPO ensures that core competencies are retained in-house and non-core competencies are outsourced.

5. Employee Quality

HPO employees are flexible and resilient, as they are trained (formally and on-the-job) and encouraged to achieve extraordinary results. As a team, they are diverse and, therefore, complementary, enabling them to deal with all types of issues and generate sufficient alternative ideas for improvement.

High Performance Organization: diagnosis and evaluation

An organization can evaluate its HPO status by conducting an HPO Diagnosis. The HPO Diagnosis starts with an HPO awareness workshop for management and other interested parties.

During this workshop, the people become acquainted with the HPO Framework, the HPO Diagnosis, and the possible HPO transformation process.

During the actual HPO Diagnosis, management and employees complete the HPO Questionnaire comprising questions based on the 35 HPO characteristics.

The individual scores are converted to average scores on the HPO factors for the complete organization. These average scores indicate for which HPO factors and HPO characteristics the company needs to implement improvements to become an HPO. Subsequently, interviews reveal ‘the story behind the figures’ and indicate what the causes are for good and lagging performance.

This yields recommendations for improvement.

Effectiveness of a High Performance Organization Framework

The effectiveness of the HPO Framework has, since its inception in 2007, been evaluated in many longitudinal studies in which the performance of organizations applying the framework was tracked over several years.

The evaluation showed that if an organization works with discipline on the recommendations from the HPO Diagnosis its financial and non-financial performance will improve. This is true for organizations in virtually every industry and every country.

This makes the HPO Framework unique in the world as it is the only one with a solid scientific foundation and of which its workings and effectiveness has been proven.

Added value of a High Performance Organization framework

The reason the HPO Framework works and is generic valid is that the HPO Framework indicates WHAT is important to improve but it does not stipulate HOW to improve. This depends on the context of the organization: the culture of the country it is established, the culture of its industry, its own organizational culture.

This means the HPO Framework isn’t a set of instructions or a recipe which can be followed blindly. Rather it is a framework that has to be translated by managers to their specific organizational situation in their current time, by designing a specific variant of the framework fit for their organization.

This is bad news for bad managers, as the HPO Framework doesn’t provide a blueprint. It is however good news for good managers, as they can put in their own experience, expertise and creativity while transforming their organizations into HPOs.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is the HPO Framework applicable in today’s modern business process environment? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors regarding the realization of a high performance organization?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. De Waal, A. A. (2012). What Makes A High Performance Organisation? hpo center, hilversum.
  2. De Waal, A. A. (2008). The secret of high performance organizations. Management Online Review, (April).

How to cite this article:
De Waal, A. (2017). High Performance Organization (HPO). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/management/high-performance-organization-hpo/

Published on: 03/06/2017 | Last update: 03/25/2022

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André de Waal
Article by:

André de Waal

André de Waal, MSc, MBA, PhD. (1960) is Academic Director of the HPO Center, an organization which conducts research into high performance organizations. André is also Director StatMind Management Research & Development and a Professor at the University Institute for International and European Studies.

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