Blog Post

Creating a Culture of Performance

Convincing an organization that performance should be a focus can be difficult, so it's important to convey its true value to company stakeholders.

The following article originally appeared as a guest byline on O’Reilly’s Radar site.

Leading Internet players like Google and Facebook have long understood the importance of strong web performance because their entire business model depends on it. Research shows that when web pages slow down, even by milliseconds, traffic and conversions drop.

Often performance-driven companies like Google instill a culture of performance from the top-down thanks to performance-minded CEOs. For the majority of organizations, however, this is not the case. These other companies are not immune to end-user performance demands, and poor web performance will hurt their company image and the bottom line.

It’s up to those working at every day performance monitoring to inform the organization of the business value of a company-wide focus on performance, convince key stakeholders to make real changes to processes and infrastructure, and maintain an ongoing performance-driven culture.

Of course, convincing those in company hierarchy positions to care about something that they may not even fully understand is easier said than done. Working in IT, you see web performance problems as obvious opportunities for valuable improvements, and necessity for change as urgent.  But what seems like an obvious problem to you isn’t to others who are less familiar with the field and see web performance as something that shouldn’t be messed with.

Step One: Build Your Case

To get others in your organization to buy in, you first need to build a relatable business case to present to your peers. Speaking in business terms that everyone can relate to, you need to demonstrate the clear link between web performance and revenue. Calculate much revenue the organization would lose if your site was down for hours, or even minutes. Ask how much time IT spends fixing problems when they could be working on other issues. Figure out what your competitors’ performance is like and how yours compares (if it’s better, you have to keep up; if it’s worse, it’s an opportunity to take advantage of their weakness).

To drive your point home, provide evidence whenever possible. Give examples of successful performance-related initiatives either at your company or from others. Demonstrate how trimming seconds off of your site’s current load time will lead to increased revenue and better customer loyalty.

Step Two: Find Champions

Even if you feel comfortable presenting your case to the higher-ups at your company, it will be strengthened by having allies in management and/or among your clients and partners. Ideas carry more weight when coming from people who have climbed the ladder and can relate to your struggles.

Seek the support of employees who have had success enacting change or incorporating new systems into the company culture. Talk to clients who have made performance a priority and find out how it affected their bottom line.

Step Three: Create a Benchmark

Once you sell your idea based business impact, it’s vital to be able to measure that impact. To do so, creating a benchmark will allow you to measure how much your performance improves, and to ensure that your ROI can be monitored.

Step Four: Communicate Goals and Report Back on Them

By establishing web performance monitoring as a priority, you should be able to track your site’s improved speed, reliability, and availability using the benchmark that you’ve established. But it’s also vital to communicate this success to your teammates and superiors. Showing progress as you go will invigorate those around you and urge them to find even more and better web performance optimization strategies.

Step Five: Instill the Performance Attitude

Improving your site’s performance is all well and good, but there’s never a time when you can say that’s finished. Remember, performance is a journey, not a destination; there’s always going to be room for improvement.

That means that cultivating a culture of performance rather than completing a single project should be your number one priority. Your team should constantly be measuring and re-measuring performance, detecting more areas for improvement, and updating goals.

There should also be an unending level of scrutiny to any changes made to your online presence. Does a new change affect your site’s loading time? Does a new marketing technology add risk to the site? Will you be able to scale effectively with this change in place? The beauty is that by instilling this culture of performance, these questions will become part of the decision-making process, enabling you and your team to foresee potential problems before they happen rather than having to go back and correct them after the fact.

In addition to championing these values within the company, there is much to be said for being open to your consumers about the steps you’re taking to improve web performance as well, as companies like Etsy have made it a priority to do. Not only does it show consumers that you value them and their time, but it also establishes yourself as a forward-thinking brand which is actively trying to stay out ahead of problems.

A performance culture does not mean a focus on driving expensive infrastructure investments. Rather, a performance culture can help companies maximize, allocate, and leverage resources more effectively and strategically. But perhaps most importantly, it means an unwavering focus on the end-user experience. Potential impact on the end-user experience must be top of mind in all website-related decisions and proposed changes.

Creating and maintaining a performance culture takes time and effort. But the payoff is worth it.

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