Performance Management

by Peter Parkes


Once we have measurement processes in place, but before we plunge in to setting targets and maybe beating ourselves up about missing them, we first need a good idea of:

  1. What we are currently achieving
  2. What our peers are achieving
  3. What we have the resources to achieve

It is essential that we start to measure before we set targets, as one effect of setting targets will be to distort behaviour. Without knowing where we are, it is difficult to understand what is practically achievable in a given time, or what resources will be required. Allow a bedding-in periodfor any new measures.

Nowadays, a lot of information can be gathered without disturbing the operational team to gather it, but refrain from ‘sneaking measures in’, as this will take you down a path of distrust that can never be backtracked.


Once you have a representative period of data, discuss it with the team:

  • Is this a true picture?
  • Is it adequate?
  • What would be adequate?
  • Why is it this level?
  • Is anything holding us back?

Aside from gathering information and an action plan, this approach will start to engage the team, which is essential in any change initiative.

Key point

Co-operation to jointly improve performance wins big points these days.

Now that we know where we are, and what might be achievable, we should look to our competition/peers. Often, key metrics are available through industry bodies. Although some of us don’t like to ask, many people are quite willing to share on non-competitive technology and processes, so give one of your peers a ring and pay them a visit. (If you have problems with this, you might like to look at the topic on Networking.)

If you really can’t bring yourself to pick up the phone, then look out for conferences and workshops. These ‘best practice groups’ are proving very popular in the public sector. If all else fails, then bring in a consultant, who will probably be able to tell you what the guy across the road is doing, and maybe even how they do it. (If you need help with consultants see the topic on Consultants.)

With the last point in mind, be careful to consider what it will take to achieve the target, and not just what the target should be. A horse and carriage is never going to beat a racing car, no matter how hard or often you flog the horse. What do you need to achieve, and how much is it worth to you?

If it is not an area of competitive advantage – in other words, where you make your money – then it’s possible that you can stand some inefficiency rather than draining management time and investment, for example in the payroll department. If you are a payroll service, however, then you had better be near best practice or you will soon be out of business. The first step, of course, is to know what you are currently doing, and then what the best are doing.


When I was putting in a large payroll system, I was challenged by the head of HR that I didn’t know anything about HR/payroll. My response was that the current number of payslips processed by her team was only about 50 per cent of that on a similar contract and 30 per cent of ‘best practice’. When I asked if she wanted to know how they did that, I got her interest. (In fact, one of her four sections was up there near the top, but the other teams were oblivious to this in their virtual silos, even though they were co-located.)