As CEO & advisor, leadership, resilience and corporate cultures at Saga Performance, Satu Ahlman is a specialist in helping craft sustainable and healthy high-performance cultures for businesses. In her talk at PGC Helsinki entitled “Building Healthy High Performing Organisations” she explained how to attain a high performance workplace culture, but without harming yourself or, importantly, your workforce.
Ahlman began by breaking down the issues behind the traditional view of a high performance workplace, which she defined as “action, doing, execution, grinding at the top level 100% of the time.” She dismissed this view as backwards and harmful as it lacks the key aspects that make high performance sustainable. Regimens that follow this train of thought will simply burn out and thus the benefits of this overperformance will be soon lost.
Ahlman had some simple recommendations for those trying to avoid burnout and improve their performance “Reaching high levels of individual or organizational performance is NOT just about action and grinding, setting goals and going after them. It’s much more about understanding how you and your people function - knowing when to push to pedal and when to pull the break. Working smarter, not harder could be one of the keys.”
Breaking it down
Ahlman went on to explain the relationship between aspects such as meaning, willingness and ability in affecting how one achieves high performance without suffering burnout. Rather than being a case of simply ‘working hard’, understanding ‘what’s needed’ is most important.
“Self awareness is the key if one wants to lead themselves. One needs to understand how to manage and lead daily performance - and life in general! Crunch is not a sustainable state. One may feel bulletproof but stress affects everyone. It is both the individual's and an organization's responsibility to address these topics.
“The good news is: It is possible to gain objective feedback about stress tolerance and stress levels and current resilience levels of individuals, teams and organizations, and to match this with our subjective feedback. Then, leading oneself and leading others becomes easier. We take a proactive approach to driving healthy and sustainable ‘high performance levels’.”
Summing it up
For Ahlman, especially in high stress industries, “What’s key is for people to understand that they have to plan for themselves first. Resilience and self leadership are in the core of today’s leadership,” she notes, advising people to “walk the talk” and not to simply push themselves to their limits but instead to self-reflect and decide if they can manage their work/life balance or not.
For those in the game industry itself, Ahlman offers specific advice. “It is recommended for games industry startups to invest their time and effort early on into defining what ‘high performance’ means to their organization, and to start defining a corporate culture early on, to avoid mindless grind, burnouts and talent shortages.
“Ultimately we want to build and design a healthy playground in which people can feel safe and trusted, and who are equipped with the tools and resources they need to enable motivation, creativity and top level performance.”