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What do we mean by a culture of performance, and how do you create a culture of performance, avoiding dysfunctional behaviours and other games that the wrong culture can encourage?

If you are are you concerned about the culture and behaviours that performance management encourages, then this article, and the many links from it, will help you?

First, what goes wrong?  What do we see with a poor culture of performance?

So often we see dysfunctional behaviour, game playing, and selfish local ambition rather than collective team working. Too many measures can create the sense that we are just “feeding the beast”. Too many targets create confusion about which are important. Yet people believe that measures motivate, what gets measured gets managed and what gets incentivised gets done first.  Silos working emerges (it does not matter about them, this is my.our target”.  None of this is deliberately created by managers, but such cases are easily found.  That is a shame.

In contrast to this approach, we work on the culture of performance….  One that fosters a way of thinking and working, beyond simplistic “Measures motivates”, because we all know that good management requires far more than measurement and measures.

So, what do we mean by a culture of performance?

A culture of performance is:

A visible and explicit pattern of behaviour, actions and values,
Working to achieve the organisation’s overall objectives,
That encourages honest evaluation, feedback and appraisal,
And informs decision making.
Built upon collective and individual responsibility.
Responsive to changing circumstances.
That encourages self regulation, trust and learning.

Pause for a moment: How well do you do against this criteria?

Take each line of the definition and ask yourself, “how well do we do against this part of the definition”?

The approach is designed to embed performance based on trust, evidence and judgement. Each of the principles of the approach and the techniques used are designed to develop and build judgement, trust and evidence; to engage staff, promote conversation about what performance means and how to achieve it. Building that a culture of performance will not happen overnight.  There can be a big difference between what we intend and what happens. Why? What are the underlying causes of this gap? What causes these problems?

Your culture of performance is a choice, explicit or accidental.

One thing we observe is the adoption of measures and targets and the “Measures motivate” approach, almost by default.  Unfortunately, the misconceptions about measures and targets and balanced scorecards has encouraged people to assume “That is how we do it”.

However, you have a choice.  And the more explicit your choice, the more likely you are as a manager to develop the culture you actually want and believe in.  Here is an example of a Chief Executive who realised how she was managing was not coherent or consistent with what she believed about people.  I refer to this as “The Chief Executive and the lightbulb moment“.  For her it was a realisation about how she wanted to create the culture in her organisation, and that she could create it how she wanted it to be.

Over the years we have seen and experienced many different cultures of performance.   Some people have told stories of really dysfunctional behaviours.  Others have told us about how great and freeing the culture is in their organisations.  Chief Executives have told us how they have explicitly made decisions to approach and design their culture in different ways.  It is clear to use that there are paradigm shifts in the  whole way that organisational cultures are designed and developed.  Also the variety of different cultures is much wider than it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

You have a choice.  In fact you have choices from many options.  The best ones are those congruent with what you believe about people.

Frameworks, methodologies and software do not create a culture of performance

These are great at providing the tools to make it happen. They are great at collecting the information and displaying it effectively, so it can be seen and used. But, that is not sufficient. Implementing tools, approaches, scorecards and frameworks without addressing the cultural issues, tends to simply freeze any existing poor practices. The status quo is further embedded.

It is useful to create a clear distinction between the culture of performance and the discipline of performance.  The discipline of performance is about being systematic, having data, collecting it and using it.  It is about evidence based decisions.  The culture of performance is about the mindset, climate and behaviours around that discipline.  You can learn more about the discipline and culture of performance in “The Performance Management Zone”.

The culture of performance is about making change happen and managing that change

If you are implementing a balanced scorecard or a performance management project, you are managing a change project. You are going to be making changes and having to manage change. If you fail to realise this, and fail to manage the process of change that affects those involved, you will fail.  When you think of a performance management project as a change management project, it begs a series of questions.

  • What levers of change are you using to implement performance management?
  • Are you just measuring performance?
  • Are you trying to improve performance?
  • Are you trying to change the performance culture?
  • If so, How?

Now we are starting to talk, not just about choosing, designing and implementing a culture of performance.  We are talking about how we change the existing culture and behaviours to teh new culture and behaviours.  We are talking about culture change:  Read much more about how this can be achieved in “The Culture Change Zone”

An engaged workforce

A key difference in the ‘culture of performance’ is that people use and provide information that is useful for them. In contrast, “Feeding the beast” demands reports, measures and targets that often appear to make little sense. In a culture of performance that information has already been used locally to improve performance (and gets reported as well).

A team engaged with heads and hearts will make a big difference. That is why we help you influence the thinking, motivation and attitudes of your staff.

Case studies and further information

You can access papers that explain these in more detail from our Strategic Performance Management case studies page. These case studies include: joined-up management, more focused management meetings, joined-up middle management, collective thinking, joined-up incentives and many other topics.

Go to our Strategic Performance management case studies to access these.