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A place to understand performance management and diagnose problems you may be encountering.

These Performance Management articles are about the choices we make about how we manage performance.  Performance Management is not one thing, it is a system of pieces that interact in our organisations.  There is the discipline and the culture of performance.   There are differing perspectives on performance management when looked at through different lenses.  The paradigms we operate under, and our beliefs about how we should manage, both influence our choice of how we manage performance.

1) Performance Management: the presenting problems

Clients often ask us to solve the problems they are having with performance management.  Often there are only presenting problems, the ones that are most apparent. Typical presenting problems are

  • We seem to be measuring the wrong things.
  • We are having problem setting targets.  We have problems with people gaming and achieving targets
  • We have dysfunctional behaviour.  We get pockets of performance…
  • The scorecards are not being used.  They do not inform decisions.
  • Our scorecards are not telling us where things are going wrong, or when things are going wrong.
  • We can’t see the big picture.  It is all too detailed.  We can’t see the wood for trees.
  • It is not helping with our strategy.  It is all operational detail.
  • The board want assurance we will continue to be successful.

The real causes of presenting problems are the underlying problems.  To help you, this is a guide to the deeper aspects of performance management.  We provide a whole collection of articles to help you think more deeply about why you may be having issues with any aspect of the management of performance.

2) Performance Management: Ten common underlying problems

Problem 1: Our language around performance management is ambiguous and poor.

Many problems originate from how we talk about the aspects of performance management.  Unless we are clear what we are talking about, we will continue to confuse. Down with business jargon. Hail plain English!  Read more…

Problem 2: There are different types of Performance Management, they serve different purposes and they operate as a connected system.

We must be absolutely clear which type and part of performance management we are talking about.  They operate as a set, so, if we change one part, we need to understand how this affects other parts.   Read more…

Problem 3: We treat performance management as a technical tool, not a social tool in a social system.

The focus of performance management is too often on measures and targets and scorecards, treating performance management as a technical tool. This is too narrow a view. Our organisations are social systems.  Our performance management approaches are operating in a social system. Our performance management systems are also social tools. They should promote the quality of conversation, thinking, decision making and learning that matter.  We ignore the social side of the performance management at our peril.  Read more…

Problem 4: There is the discipline of performance.

The discipline of performance management is doing the basics. This is where most people focus.  Read more…

Problem 5: There is the culture of performance.

There is also a culture of performance that we create.  The behaviours, expectation and norms around performance management. The psychology of management is richer than “Measures motivate”.   This is as important as discipline and affects how we perform and how we learn.  Read more….

Problem 6: Beware best practice & Common practice – One size or style does not fit all

There is a tendency to think “This is best practice”. Much advice is “Common practice”.  However, there are many different ways to manage performance.  Different styles that suit particular environments, people, organisations, business models, cultures and managers.  Be careful to choose the style and approach that suits your style of management.  Read more…

Problem 7: How we design performance management is poor.

Most balanced scorecards are not balanced scorecards, they are scorecards. The design of measures and targets is often done poorly.  Poor design and implementation ends up with poor operation.  Read more…

Problem 8: How we implement performance management is poor.

Many performance management projects fail due to poor implementation.  The design and implementation of a performance management approach is rarely treated as a change programme.  We often fail to create ownership.  Poor design and implementation ends up with poor operation.  Read more…

Problem 9:  Performance Management does not exist

Yes really.  Well not as an entity in its own right. It took me 17 years of working in the performance management space to realise this!  You can discover why in two minutes. Read more…

Problem 10: The performance management paradigm has shifted

The models on which we base much performance management thinking has changed.  Why, how we manage performance today will probably not work in the future.  Read more about the paradigm shifts…

3) Performance Management Explained: The ten underlying problems analysed and explored.

With links to further articles that help you understand and diagnose the underlying issues.

People talking

Talking about performance management

Problem 1) The Language of Performance Management – Plain English please

Problem:  Our language about performance management contains so much jargon, it is actually impoverished.As a result we miss the subtle and important parts. This is the root cause of many performance management problems. One of the first things we do with clients is be really clear with our language so we all know what each other means.

Articles that help: Have a read of these to help clarify your language around performance management.
Warning: these articles use plain English!

The question: Are you all talking the same language and using words that have the same meaning to each other?

Problem 2) Performance management is not one thing.  There are various different types and they interact as a set. 

Problem 1:  Our organisations have many different types of performance management system in place. They interact as a complex set. Before we change anything, it is vital we understand the complexity of the whole system and how they interact.

Articles that will help: 

Gears operating together

The various types of performance management operate as a system.

Problem 2 : In any organisation, the various different types of performance management system interact as a complex set. Before we change anything, it is vital we understand the complexity of the whole system and how they interact. A failure to consider the interaction will waste time and money on implementation. It will cause even more chaos when in use.

Articles that will help:

Questions to think about:

  • Are you talking about the same aspects and types of performance management? 
  • Are you considering how these types interact with one another?

“The reason we like working with you is that you are sympathetic to our style of thinking and working and adapt to it.”
Dr Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Client for Strategic Balanced Scorecard and future thinking

Problem 3)  These are not technical tools – they are social tools

Problem:  its about the quality of conversation. The quality of thinking and decision making.

Articles that help:

Questions to think about:

  • Are we creating the right conversations about performance?
  • Are we creating the right frame for our people to perform?
woman examining performance charts

Examining performance management charts

Problem 4) Are we applying the discipline of performance.

Problem:  Our organisations have many different types of performance management system in place. They interact as a complex set. Before we change anything, it is vital we understand the complexity of the whole system and how they interact.The Discipline of Performance

The discipline of performance is about doing the basics well.  Do we have the information?  Is there one version of the truth?  Are we taking decisions based upon that information?  Do we wait for decisions to have an effect before we act again? Are we learning from what we see and the feedback we get?  Are measures and indicators being used appropriately.  Do we set ambition, expectation and targets well. While the discipline of performance is about doing the basics well, the culture of performance is different.

Articles that help: 

  • To be frank, every site talking about performance management is focused on the discipline of performance; especialy the software and product providers.  So look at those.
  • Once you have a basic discipline of performance, what really matters is your culture of performance…  and you can choose that.
  • Just remember that the discipline of performance is only half of the story.  As you read these articles ask yourself, “What culture are they suggesting, creating or assuming”.  Many assume one that can easily be dysfunctional.

Questions to think about:

  • Do we have a discipline of performance?
  • What is our discipline of performance saying about our culture of performance?
  • Did we choose our culture of performance, or just adopt or assume it? (see problem 5)

Problem 5) Our culture of performance is just as important

Jigsaw puzzle, missing piece

Help people fill in the spaces in their mental models

Problem:  We create a culture of performance in our organisations, whether intentionally, or not. That culture of performance dramatically changes how people are managed, work and behave.

Sometimes we inherit a culture of performance from a previous manager, owner, director.  That might not be what we want any longer, or suits today’s environment.

Often, the performance management systems assume a culture (eg “measures motivate”, “what gets measured gets manage”). This may not always be desired or intended.  However there are other ways to design, create and improve the culture of performance.

Articles that help: Warning: these articles use plain English!

Two big questions:

  • Is the culture of of performance you have, the culture you want?
  • Is that culture consistent across the organisation?
Group of people dressed alike

One style of Performance Management should not fit all

Problem 6) There are lots of ways to do this – one size or style does not fit all.

Problem: Just as different managers have differing styles, so do different organisations.  However, the assumpton is that a style of performance management suits all.  This is not the case.  The more organisations I meet and work with, the more I see different executivs and managers creating an environment for performance in different ways.  Some are own to the personalities of the owners and managers.  Others are down to the sectors and industries.  Some are simply innovators and mavericks who believe in their people are want them to enjoy work, feel it has meaning as well as purpose, and to succeed.

Articles that help: 

Questions to ponder: 

  • Have you accidentally adopted the culture from another organisation, or way of thinking? 
  • Are you accidentally operating a culture of performance established by an manager who left ages ago? 
  • Are the underlying philosophies of your performance management tools and approach consistent with each other, and congruent with how you want to manage?

“We knew we had to focus on the big issues. We now are better, as a team, addressing strategic issues, sharing ownership of the big issues and taking corporate responsibility.“

“It has helped us as Directors work far more closely together, where we would not have normally. We can now lead from the top and are seen to speak in a single voice.”

“The approach has created a much greater sense of unity between the departments. It’s the combination that matters. We realise we are all culpable, together.”

Peterborough City Council
Strategy and Strategic Balanced Scorecard project

Problem 8)  The design and implementation of performance management systems is often poor.

The problem: Sometimes the problem lies in how we design our performance management systems.  For instance what gets measured gets managed, can end up as managing only that which you think you can measure.  Many scorecards fail to inform any decisions or actions.  Outcome thinking is required by regulators but applied simplistically in the public sector.  Strategic balanced scorecards use objectives, strategic themes and decision or performance areas, but these are often omitted as good practice is ignored for simply slotting measures in perspectives.  The two worst crimes: ownership is ignored; or there is no thought about how the information is to be discussed and used.

Articles that help: Many claim to be creating a ‘Balanced Scorecard’, but fail to apply any of the principles Norton & Kaplan introduced.  Here are some articles to help you

““I can’t think of another example of a project where there has been such sign-up to the approach from every directorate. We have not embedded things in the same way before.”
Peterborough City Council
Strategy and Strategic Balanced Scorecard project

“This project has been remarkable. There has been so little resistance and so much take up so quickly. We have not encountered that before.”
Steve Inch, Director, Dimensions
Client for Strategic Balanced Scorecard at Board and regional level

Problem 9)  Performance Management does NOT exist!

Problem:  Performance Management does not exist!

Having worked in this space for nearly 20 years it was only in 2014 that we realised Performance Management does not exist. (Yes really!)   In fact performance management is a merely sub-set of a wider process that tends to get ignored. Ignore the rest and performance management can go dramatically wrong.

Overall it is simple: Make good decisions, execute them well and learn quickly from them.  The problem is that most balanced scorecard design relies on decisions already being made so you are tracking the implementation of those decisions (managing performance).  They are not actually helping you manage the wider decision process.

 Articles that help:

 Questions to ponder

  • How do you facilitate, enable and support decision making through your organisation?
  • Do your scorecards and balanced scorecards actually support decisions?


Keep calm, it is only a paradigm shift

Keep calm, it is only a paradigm shift

Problem 10) The paradigms of Performance Management are changing!

Problem:  Changing Paradigms and Beliefs influence how we manage performance.

Articles that help:

  • Do you have ’employees in an organisation’, or ‘people in a business’?
  • Performance management is a social process, as much as technical.
  • The nature of work and employment is changing.
  • Our organisational boundaries no longer exists.  We operate in social systems and eco-systems.
  • The Paradigm Shift Zone


  • Are you managing and operating your organisation and your people under an old paradigm?

Performance Management and further resources

Our website is divided into Zones, or major topics, determined by the conversations we have with clients.  These zones are all closely and inter-related.  Aspects of performance management are closely related to other zones.  Specifically:

  • Your strategy has to be supported by your performance management approach. So it is worth exploring The Strategy Zone
  • The way we view and manage our organisations has changed over time.  This has affected how we think about how we manage performance. Explore these shifts in The Paradigm Shift Zone.
  • Many organisations have old style, simplistic balanced scoreacrds.  If you want to understand how balanced scorecards should work, visit The Modern Balanced Scorecard Zone. If you want an approach more suited to today’s organisational context, you need to explore The 4G Strategic Balanced Scorecard Zone
  • Make good decisions, execute them well and learn quickly from them: We make a radical suggestion that Performance Management does not exist (on its own).  It is actually a part of the decision process.  To learn more visit The Decision Improvment Zone.
  • Changes to your Performance management approach should be treated as a culture change project.  So, explore The Culture & Behavioural Change Zone

Happy exploration.  Or to find our more simply Contact us.

Recent Blog posts

A selection of recent articles on aspects of performance management and how we manage performance

The tyranny of targets – a performance management disease

The tyranny of targets is the effect on an organisation of excessive and inappropriate target setting.  It occurs when the need to achieve targets, and avoid the consequence of missing targets, overcomes common sense and doing the right thing, creating an adverse...

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Measure mania – a nasty performance management disease

Measure mania is a disease of performance management.  it is easily caught and spread.  It is a compulsive behaviour to measure absolutely everything. How do we recognise measure mania? Measure mania is easily recognised in organisations. The organisation will be...

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Obsessive compulsive target setting – a nasty disease

Obsessive compulsive target setting is a disease of organisations and regulators.  It is also loved by the media.  It is a disease easily caught by those starting in performance management. How do we recognise obsessive compulsive target setting Obsessive compulsive...

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Why use a KPI? Beware the KPI substitution heuristic

Why use a KPI?  There is a lot of discussion about which particular measure, indicator or KPI to use.  There is far less discussion about why use a KPI in the first place.  Actually, the reason is often a heuristic.  Let me explain.... To solve difficult questions, we...

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Organisational structures do not exist – they are a myth!

OK, I can hear the squeals of anguish and dissent.  "Of course organisational structures exist" I hear people say. We have organisations and we create structures and we do organisational design to place people within those structures. We spend time and effort and...

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You can’t sack people in the public sector. Really!

This is a phrase I keep coming across, "You can't sack people in the public sector". Here is the catch:  When you want to bring about cultural and behavioural change there will be some people who cannot, or will not, change their behaviour.  They retain the behaviours...

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