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The Performance Management Zone

This set of articles covers a whole range of performance management topics. If you want to understand performance management, its language, the various types, and to diagnose problems you may be encountering, you are in the right place. This is our “Performance Management Zone”

These articles are about the choices we make about how we manage performance and how to improve performance.  Performance Management is not one thing: it is a system of components that interact in our organisations.  There is the discpline 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, all influence our choice about how we manage performance in our organisations.

Woman viewing statistics and other factors
We need a wide view of performance to manage our organisations: one style or culture does not fit all situations.

Contents: Performance Management topics and articles

First we explore what we hear from clients, the typical presenting problems and the common underlying reasons for these problems. We have listed nine underlying causes of performance management problems in organisations: These are explained and analysed below:

  1. The language of performance management is confusing: It contains too much jargon, that is not clearly shared and understood.
  2. Performance management is not one thing. There are various types of Performance Management and the various types interact.
  3. Performance Management is seen as a technical tool or solution. It is not. Performance Management is really a social tool.
  4. The Discipline of Performance needs to be applied.
  5. Just as important, if not more so, is the Culture of Performance.
  6. One size or style does not fit all. There are many styles and approaches to managing performance.
  7. The design and implementation of performance management approaches is often poor. Often, performance management implementations lack appropriate management of change.
  8. Performance management does not exist. (It is really a part of something bigger, and more important).
  9. The paradigms of performance management are changing – so how we manage out peoples’ and our organisation’s performance should also change.

Performance Management: Understanding the presenting problems and their underlying causes

The presenting problems: Clients often ask us to help improve, modernise and solve problems they are having with performance management.  Often they talk about their presenting problems, the ones that are most apparent. However, these are often not the underlying or root causes of the problems. Typical presenting problems include:

It is not the presenting problem: it is the root or underlying causes that need addressing.
  • They have not implemented what we want. We talk different language. As a result performance management is not working. (See Language of performance)
  • The scorecards are not being used.  They do not inform decisions. We seem to be measuring the wrong things.
  • We have dysfunctional behaviour.  We get pockets of performance… (See Culture of performance)
  • Our scorecards are not telling us where things are going wrong. They tell us afterwards. They do not predict or inform.
  • The information is too detailed. It is not strategic enough.  We can’t see the big picture. We can’t see wood for trees.
  • We are having problem setting targets. They need to be more meaningful and achieved.
  • The Board want assurance we will continue to be successful (and so do I, as an Executive or Manager).

The deeper root causes: The cause of these presenting problems are the deeper, underlying problems: the root causes of problems managing performance.  So, in this zone, we give you a guide to how to understand and address these underlying causes, through a whole collection of articles. The articles are chosen to help you think more deeply about why you may be having issues with any specific aspect of the management of performance.


Issue 1: The Language of Performance Management is ambiguous and confusing – Plain English please

People discussing performance
Discussing performance – our language matters, but is often ambiguous and confusing

The 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 understand how they use the words, develop clear definitions, and from then on, being really clear with our language. That way we all know what each other means.

Articles that will help: to clarify your language around performance management, have a read of these articles. 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?

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Issue 2: There are various types of Performance Management, and they interact.

There are two underlying problems here: There are many different types of performance management. They operate and interact as a set.

Gears operating together
The various types of performance management operate as a system.

Problem 1: Our organisations have many different types of performance management system in an organisation. We need to ensure we are talking about the same type of performance management system and the same parts of that overall system, e.g. individual, organisation, operational, strategic, governance, compliance, decision making etc.. (System in this context is not technology, but the whole approach).

Problem 2 : 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 with problem (1) the variety of types of Performance management

Articles that will help with problem (2) how the various types of performance management system interact:

Questions to think about:

  • Are you talking about the same type and aspect of performance management? 
  • Are you considering how these types interact with one another?  If you change one part, what effect will it have on others and others have on it?

Our clients say:
“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

“The reason we like working with you is that you are sympathetic to our style of thinking and working, and you adapt to it.”

Dr Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Client for Strategic Balanced Scorecard and Future Thinking.

Issue 3:  We treat Performance Management as a technical tool: It is really a set of social tools

Think about the social system that connects people

Problem:  Too often performance management is treated as a technical system; the focus is on the software, or the process. In reality, it is about the quality of conversation, peoples’ understanding and decision making. It is about the connections between people and the quality of analysis and thinking. Make good decisions, execute them well (the performance management piece) and learn quickly from them.

Articles that will help:

Questions to think about:

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

Issue 4: Ensuring we apply the discipline of performance.

Of course we need to gather the data and analyse the information to make informed decisions.

Problem:  We need sound data to make decisions. We need to be disciplined in how we execute those decisions and learn from their impact (or not). 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.

Your discipline of performance sits within a culture of performance. Part of the question, do people have the discipline, is determine by the culture of performance you create.

Articles that help:

  • Frankly there are hundreds of articles on the web about the discipline of performance, one version of the truth, setting measures etc.

Questions to ponder:

  • Do we have a discipline of performance?
  • Do we enforce that discipline of performance?

Issue 5: Our culture of performance is just as important, but it gets ignored or assumed

Culture of performance wraps around the discipline of performance
The culture of performance dominates the discipline of performance

Culture of performance Problem 1:  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.

Performance Culture Problem 2: There are lots of ways to manage people and performance. One size or style does not fit all. You have a choice

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.

Sometimes, we inherit a culture of performance from a previous manager, owner, director.  That might not be what we want. However, that culture and set of behaviours persist. The challenge is twofold: 1) to identify that the old culture prevails and 2) to change that and help people learn and adapt to a new culture and way of working.

Articles that help: Warning. These articles may challenge how you think about how you manage performance and your people!

Questions to consider:

  • Is the culture of of performance you have, the culture you want?
  • Is that culture consistent across the organisation?
  • 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?

Our clients say:
“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

“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

Issue 6: There are lots of ways to manage performance – one default style does not fit all organisations or managers


To get the best from our people, perhaps we need to thinking about the alternative ways we could manage their performance

Problem: Just as different managers have differing styles, so do different organisations.  However, the assumption 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 executives 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 managers 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?

Our clients say:
“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


Issue 7:  The design and implementation of performance management systems often misses important aspects.

Bridge with piece missing
Sometimes the implementation of our performance management systems miss important pieces

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, and end up with simple reporting dashboards.  Here are some articles to help you:


Our clients say:
“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

“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


Issue 8:  Performance Management does NOT exist!

Problem:  Performance Management does not exist! (Not as a stand alone process, anyway)

Having worked in this space for nearly 20 years it was only in 2014 that I 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?

Issue 9: The paradigms of how we manage performance are changing!

Problem:  Paradigms and Beliefs influence how we manage performance. These underlying paradigms and beliefs are changing (or have already changed).

Many of the assumptions we make about how organisational and people performance should be designed and managed are based on long established ideas. For instance, ‘measures motivate’ and ‘what gets measured gets managed’. However as we look at the way the world around us is changing it is clear these older paradigms are shifting. new ways of thinking how we treat and manage our people and think about our organisations, are not simply emerging. They are becoming mainstream. We can and should reflect on how we manage performance and consider, “Is there a better way?”.

Articles that will help:

 Question

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

Further reading and resources related to how we manage performance in our organisations

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:

  • Strategy: Your strategy has to be supported by your performance management approach. So it is worth exploring The Strategy Zone
  • Paradigm Shifts: 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.
  • Modern Balanced Scorecards and the 4th Generation approach: Many organisations have old style, simplistic balanced scorecards.  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
  • Decision Making: 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.
  • Culture & Behavioural Change: 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.