Making Your Tribe a High Performer

The differences between tribes across the United States are as expansive as those between the most diverse cities, counties, states, not-for profits, or businesses.

Tribes range from urban to rural, from very complex to relatively simple, from large to small, and from wealthy to impoverished. There are haves and have-nots. The haves tend to benefit from sizeable gaming operations or significant natural resources, and the have-nots tend to rely primarily on federal funding support.

Nonetheless, every tribe can improve performance, and every tribe can be a high performer.

All high-performing organizations share four attributes, and tribes are no exception. These attributes include a clear plan for moving forward, a focus on performance measurement, a strategy for cultivating and compensating employees, and a commitment to communication. The key to success is achieving alignment between these four elements, as shown below.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these four attributes:


Every tribe should be guided by a strategic plan, which defines a road map for moving from point A to point B.

This plan should reflect a long-term vision to guide strategic decisions, a thorough understanding of what got your organization to its current state, and a clear path to your desired future state. It should address the tribe’s goals in basic services to members as well as goals for its business enterprises.

A comprehensive strategic plan should encompass the following components:

  • Mission and core values
  • Long-range vision
  • Long- and short-term goals
  • Historical review and SWOT analysis, which measures strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • Community needs
  • Annual and quarterly action plans

Performance Measurement

Performance metrics should be in place to monitor performance against your tribe’s plan.

These metrics should be developed for each facet of your governmental and enterprise operations, and each should tie back to your strategic goals and objectives. For example: If a strategic goal is to increase the availability of affordable housing on the reservation, performance measurement might mean publishing a monthly list of applicants waiting for homes on the reservation and the inventory of homes. The review and comparison of the lists from month to month would help determine whether the goal is being met.

Think of performance in terms of three tiers:

  • Global organization level
  • Department or division level
  • Individual level

Performance at each tier is important to the success of the organization, and there should be alignment between the tiers.

Cultivating and Compensating Employees

In order to attract, retain, develop, and incentivize the workforce that will help you meet your tribe’s goals and objectives, you must determine what resources and competencies will be required at each level and in each facet of your organization.

Accordingly, you will need to define:

  • Recruiting needs for entry-level and experienced personnel
  • Career paths to support the progression of both managerial and technical personnel
  • Compensation programs that create incentives for employees to accomplish goals and objectives
  • Training programs to help employees reach their maximum potential—perhaps the most important element

It’s critical that employees are aware of and understand how to navigate their career path options and benefit from performance-based compensation in order to improve retention and ultimately help the tribe achieve its goals and enhance the lives of tribal members and employees.


Planning, performing, and cultivating and compensating employees together form the cornerstones of high-performing tribes. However, you won’t achieve the engagement required to be a truly high-performing organization without communicating how these three elements align.

Communication is the glue that binds these items together. It helps your employees understand how they individually and collectively contribute to the success of your organization. In order to be effective, it should be crisp, clear, structured, and consistent.

Assessing Your Progress

A performance assessment by an outside, unbiased expert who understands tribal governments and enterprises is a great way to assess your tribe so you can position it for a successful and sustainable future. This expert should offer a breadth of best practices from which your tribe can draw.

These assessments are sometimes referred to as performance audits. An assessment shouldn’t focus only on evaluating the extent to which these four attributes exist, but it should also encompass a comprehensive assessment of the operational and organizational performance of each component of the tribe.

The results of the operational and organizational assessment will address:

  • What the tribe’s strategic plan should include
  • What performance measures will help to monitor plan implementation
  • What employee cultivation, training, and compensation actions are needed to resource plan execution

A communication strategy ties these elements together in a way that builds awareness and buy-in from your employees.

We're Here to Help

These four elements can help you lay the foundation for creating a high-performing organization. The rest is simply execution. Contact your Moss Adams professional at to help your tribe succeed with a strategic plan, performance metrics, systems to help your employees thrive, and an assessment to help streamline the process.