Saturday 20 November 2021

Performance Management

The other day, over dinner and a glass or two, I was asked by a senior academic what I thought was the biggest issue that Universities needed to address, in the context of management and leadership.  I said performance management; and he - and the other members of the University at dinner (both academics and professional services staff) agreed with an enthusiasm that slightly took me aback. (It wasn't as though I was paying for the wine, either...).

Whether it is the most important or not is clearly debatable; but it is certainly important. And I think the context in which we think about it needs re-examining.

Too often, we treat performance management as the unpleasant business of dealing with poor performance; which is a bureaucratic, as well as an emotional, nightmare.

However, I think it is better conceived of as a leadership task, and a positive one, at that.  For if we take performance management seriously, it is surely about the leader's responsibility to create the environment (context, culture, systems, structures) in which people are most likely to be both willing and able to give of their best. 

That is likely to include maximising autonomy, where ever possible; offering clarity about context and desirable outcomes; modelling the positive values that the institution aspires to; noticing and honouring both effort and results; encouraging and enabling teamwork and collaboration; and so on.  

It also means casting a critical eye over all the other good, but perhaps slightly peripheral, things we aspire to do, and considering whether pursuing them (or pursuing them at this time, or in this way) will have deleterious effect on on people's willingness and desire to give of their best; and when necessary, fighting off some of the well-intentioned but burdensome initiatives that bureaucracies have a peculiar gift for imposing.

It will also include addressing poor performance; not least because one of the things that people find really disheartening is to work their socks off, and then see others, apparently, getting away with doing little or nothing. But addressing poor performance is only a small, albeit crucial, element in a genuine performance management approach: there is so much more to it than that!


With thanks to  Lefteris kallergis and Prince Akachi for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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