Strategic Performance Management Partnership – performance management in action

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Organizational Strategic Plans usually express, or at least imply, a desire to be ‘learners’: (for example)

“Organizational learning links to culture, creativity and innovation. Stimulating and realising an innovative, creative, people focused culture by implication demand an acceptance of greater learning and, together, are necessary to achieve the goal and objectives outlined in our organization’s strategic plan.”

The above, or something similar, would be a common statement to find in an organisation’s forward plan.

This intent is often further developed within the HR objectives, policies and procedures.  Usually with a comment such as:

HR has a role tocontribute to maintaining a work environment that builds and maintains a culture of learning and teamwork, is open to the principles of leadership, seeks and effectively manages change, and is committed to helping staff achieve their full potential.”

There will, no doubt, be other documents and references referring not to what will be done (the plan), but rather to how it will be achieved (the strategy).  An expressed intent might commonly look something like:

“An ongoing challenge will be to create a set of standards, values and codes of conduct through which we will enable the attainment of the objectives set out in this plan.  That culture must be empowering, open, encouraging, supporting high performance and eliminate any culture of blame.  It must be based on the organization committing to investing in the professional development of its staff.”

The above statements, found in most modern organizations in some shape or other, clearly indicate a belief that promoting learning and innovation is a pre-requisite of organizational development and is founded in ‘people development’. 

They bring together:

  • The organization’s objectives
  • People development
  • The organizational culture. 

However, we must recognize, in talking about learning in the context of organizational culture, that the systems, policies, processes and procedures put in place are purely mechanistic ways of directing what people do and, to some extent, the way in which they do it – they do not, (at least in the short or medium term) change the ‘mind-set’, motivation, values, or way of thinking, which are the essence of an organization’s culture.  Basically, the determinator of culture is the way employees think, not the tasks they are required to do or the laid down procedures by which they are required to do them.  Examining this as a whole cycle, we see there is an inter-dependent process, whereby:

  • the organization has objectives (which are set by people),
  • people are then tasked to achieve them,
  • people determine the best way to achieve them (this includes an organizational culture component), and
  • the culture of the organization then lays a foundation for people development.

Linking together our people, the organization, what we do, the way we do it, and the way we think, becomes essential as a foundation for achieving the objectives outlined in the organization’s forward plan. 

This is the complex job of a performance management process.  However, its foundation must, by implication, rest with the mind-set of the people within the organization – not just the management team, but all people, because it is all people through whom the culture is determined.  Therefore, to enable a true performance management approach and maintain it in effective operation it is imperative that ownership of the process is vested in all our employees, not just our management team.

To date, most performance management processes in most organizations have, usefully, built a framework of awareness and understanding of the instrument and apparatus of performance monitoring.  However, looking forward we should now aim to take our development process to a higher level of mutual benefit for individuals, operational teams and the organization.  To that end we will need to adopt a modified approach that shifts responsibility from ‘the organization’ to a ‘shared accountability’ – a learning partnership.  It should aim to establish joint ownership of the performance management process by all those who are participating; pro-actively generating opportunity for them to ‘become motivated’ rather than ‘moving’ them to behave in a pre-determined way.  The alternative is a mechanistic procedure, which will effectively reduce the process to an appraisal system (if we want an appraisal system we can easily introduce one, but the opening extracts of this document indicate that most organizations have a modern desire for a strategic learning partnership).    Essentially, our new process must aim to redefine the nature of the psychological contract between the organization and employees, and extend the existing performance monitoring system into a Strategic Performance Management Partnership.  Some possible required shifts in emphasis of current processes are suggested below:

 Usual emphasis of current process        Increased emphasis required on:

Task focus                                                     Peoples’ needs focus

One-to-one based                                         Team based

Authority relationship                                     Responsibility relationship

Forced process                                              Agreed process

Activity orientation                                          Competency orientation

Managing approach                                       Leadership approach

Short term                                                      Long term

Institutionally supported                                 Self supported

Hierarchical                                                    Networked

Either/Or                                                        Multiple option

Organisation owned                                       Individual owned

Rigid mechanism                                            Flexibility

Policed                                                           Mutually monitored and supported

Micro-development                                         Macro-development

Acceptance by Senior Management Teams of the above proposed change in focus is the first essential step in the design of a revised performance management ethos that will elevate many current performance monitoring systems to a Strategic Performance Management Partnership through the implementation of a culture of innovation and learning.

Chris Warren

Author and Freelance Writer (and HR and OD Specialist)

For some lighter reading you might try my latest fiction publication – Randolph’s Challenge, Book One-The Pendulum Swings

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