High Performance Doesn’t Need to Feel Hard

By Marty Parker

One of the things that often comes up in discussions around high performance cultures and high performance teams is the fact that “high performance” can mean different things to different people – and it looks different depending on your organization.

I recently sat down to talk with Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO at Knix, about what high performance looks like for her, how she built a high performance culture, and why she believes that high performance doesn’t need to feel hard.

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the full conversation here.

Marty Parker:
Let’s talk a little bit about the culture. Describe the corporate culture at Knix, if you would, Joanna.

Joanna Griffiths:
I would say that it is a very authentic culture. So we encourage our community and our employees to show up exactly as they are. I think it’s a culture that’s really consistent with what you see externally as a brand. So how we show up on the outside is also how we show up on the inside.

We are highly ambitious, but still value a sense of humor, and feel like work should be fun and that you should like and respect the people that you work with. So while we’ve been growing quickly and have had all of these different new initiatives and things that we’ve taken on, it hasn’t felt like a lot. And I think that’s something that’s kind of unique.

And certainly before COVID, when we were all working in the office, oftentimes people would be very surprised. They would come in at 5:30 and no one would be here, which is not what you think about when you think about a start-up – you hear these stories of people staying until midnight and sacrificing kind of every single component of their lives. And we have a team that works really hard, but those aren’t the expectations that we have.

Marty Parker:
Sounds like you’ve set out to build this culture over the last seven plus years deliberately, but has itbeen as deliberately as it sounds or did it also evolve organically, Joanna?

Joanna Griffiths:
I think it’s been deliberate. And I think that, candidly speaking, there’s been moments over the course of building Knix when maybe we didn’t have the best culture. When you get a couple of wrong people into the organization. And especially when you’re so small, like every single person can be value added to your culture or they can take away from it. And so I think it was having really great moments and then having some not great moments where it became something really intentional where, certainly myself and everyone within our organization really feels like work is such a huge part of who we are.

Now more than ever with COVID, a lot of us don’t have very many other things going on. I don’t know if you do Marty, but I certainly don’t. And so being really intentional that if this is where we’re dedicating the bulk of our time and energy, then we need to create an environment and a space where everyone feels welcome, everyone feels respected and everyone feels like they can be their authentic selves.

Marty Parker:
How do you define high performance at Knix, and what are those attributes that you may look for when you’re assessing potential high performance team members for the organization?

Joanna Griffiths:
So, for me, I think that high-performance shouldn’t feel hard, and that’s because I believe that if you have a group of people that are working towards the same goals it’s very clear what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. And you’re hiring people that have such a high level of personal accountability and pride in their work, where you can count on the other person across the room from you to do their part and in doing so, it makes your part feel easier. So, for me, that’s what it is. It’s about speed and agility and a confidence that you can take on any obstacle without it feeling hard.

And there’s been times at Knix where things haven’t jelled and it’s felt really hard. And then there’s been times with the right group of people where you feel unstoppable and it doesn’t matter what tasks or what challenges in front of you. You just know that you have the right group of people who are determined and dedicated to figure it out.

Marty Parker:
I really love the values you’ve defined for the organization (and when I say you, I mean you and your team) of inclusivity, community being a mirror to the world, staying curious, safe is risky. Boy, does that sound never more true than it is today, and being an inspired protagonist. And I want to talk about two in particular, starting with inclusivity. Why is it so important to have inclusivity as a value, and how does that show up in the company on a day-to-day basis?

Joanna Griffiths:
I think it was really important because the whole premise of why I started Knix and the two problems that I saw in the market. So, one, from a product standpoint and products not being designed for real people. And the second, from a marketing standpoint. Both of those challenges rooted down to brands that were by their nature, not inclusive. And so the real opportunity that I saw was to create a brand that welcomed people of all ages, all races, all sizes, and then made everyone feel like they belonged and they were a part of things. So, that’s why it was really important that we set it as part of our values.

I think anything that is a core strength of an organization, that’s part of your point of difference in that it’s at the heart of what it is you’re trying to do, it’s important to articulate that and put it as part of your values.

Marty Parker:
I want to hear you talk about being an inspired, protagonist. What does that mean, and what does that look like in practice?

Joanna Griffiths:
It’s an interesting one to have in your values. So, we’re a challenger brand and we are a disruptor within the industry and we are encouraging our customers and our community to kind of tackle taboos and to go against the status quo and all those different things. And when we defined these values, it was right around the start of the #MeToo era, and I really noticed that there were two ways to approach the problem. One was from a place of anger and negativity, and the other one was up from a place of light, positivity, empowerment, and believing that there could be a better world. And some of our competitors we saw going down the negative path, and so we made a conscious decision that regardless of what conversation we were entering into, what topic we were going to tackle, whatever it was we were going to kind of try and challenge as an organization, that we would come at it from a place of light and optimism and not from a place of darkness. So, that’s why we included it as part of our values.

Marty Parker:
Joanna, what trends do you foresee in the area of building high-performance cultures and corporate culture in general?

Joanna Griffiths:
I think the way that we’ve worked has been forever changed. We talk about that a lot now. So I don’t think that anyone can make the argument that you need to be in an office nine to five with the same group of people every single day of the week, and then that’s what’s required to do well. So I definitely think that that’s a trend.

I think that we’re going to see a more flexible approach to work and a more diverse employee base … where for the first time we’re able to hire people from across North America. And I think that’s going to unlock great things for us as an organization and for anyone else who’s following suit, because you’re really, for the first time finding the best candidate, regardless of where they’re located.