Performance Management

by Peter Parkes

Introducing performance management

Performance management is the application of a structured process to deliver organisational strategy through the selection and monitoring of appropriate measures, and management action against agreed targets. If this is to be worthwhile, it should also have the aim of creating a climate of ongoing improvement.

No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.

John Stuart Mill

The page links in the panel on the left follow a rough process order to introducing performance management; but if you are looking for an exact recipe... Sorry, there isn’t one. Each organisation will be different, and you will often have to retrace your steps to keep refining your approach as you learn what works and what doesn’t. The process of implementing performance management should itself be performance managed and continually improved.

The introduction (or, usually, re-introduction) of performance management into any organisation is a major change management initiative, involving many human factors in addition to system and process changes, and should only be undertaken after appropriate planning and with the involvement of managers, supervisors and operators. If you know or suspect activity in this area, then find out what is going on and get involved. Also see the topic on Change.

Timing considerations

There are many software systems on the market that claim to be performance management systems. They are, of course, only aids to data collection and display. As the old adage for computer systems goes, ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’. The appropriate selection of measures is probably more important than the choice of the computer system, though the system acquisition may drive the timescale of the project.

As managers, we may not be involved in the specification or procurement of a corporate performance management system, but we should not go live with measures until we are confident that the processes we are measuring are at least functional, if not optimised. Hence, the timing of performance management is complementary to local Business Process Re-engineering (BPR).

Pilot project

The organisation should operate a pilot project in order to pave the way of least resistance, and learn from inevitable mistakes and miscommunications before a full rollout. As with any change project, an energetic supporter should be sought for the pilot department. (A newly-appointed manager is usually keen to make their mark and demonstrate a can-do attitude.) If you don’t want to volunteer (and make your name), you should at least stay abreast of how things are going.

Stakeholder management

Tell me and I will forget,

Show me and I will remember,

Involve me and I will understand.

Chinese proverb

Figure out who the stakeholders are, and then involve them.

For a corporate project, the HR function is a key stakeholder in the project, due to the obvious overlap with personal performance and reward. As a manager or supervisor, it is wise to involve any union representation to bury apprehensions that the system will be used as a back door route to change working practices and staff conditions. If the systems are clearly planned to improve commercial viability and security, and perhaps more importantly to individuals, to empower them to do their jobs better, then there should be no credible resistance to change (though people may still have a moan).

Measuring performance is pointless unless we are going to do something about it, so these change initiatives need to have buy-in from managers with operational control and supervisors with leadership responsibility, like ourselves. Of course, our operators will also be impacted by the changes. It is worth asking

  • Are we burdening them with extra administration for which they see no useful purpose?
  • What do they think is important to measure?

It is best to allay the legitimate fears of our staff by including them directly into scoping and planning. And, of course, you are also much more likely to get sensible measures if you pick the brains of the people who carry out the process for a living. If we all have clear and agreed purpose and goals, then the rest is detail.