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Improving Performance Management

Successful organisations, like our clients, deliver results through their people. They make good decisions, execute them well, and learn quickly from them. It is about behaviours, actions and learning. They lead and manage using both sides of their brain: understanding how people behave and being systematic; understanding how the culture they create, influences results, as much as understanding the discipline of performance. Our approach is the same.  

To improve how performance is managed you have to address how you create and nurture a culture of learning, decision making and performance, as well as the discipline of performance.

If you are merely looking for measures and targets as a way of improving performance management, you are in the wrong place. If you are genuinely looking for performance improvements from the behaviours of your people, then you are in the right place.

What makes our approach different from most you come across?

We characterise our approach as:

  1. There is the discipline of performance and the culture of performance: When we tackle problems in organisations we help you address both.  Culture will always trump discipline
  2. Focus on behaviours, not simply measures:  Focusing on measures and targets is too simplistic and leads to dysfunctional behaviours.  Focus on the behaviours you want.
  3. Quality of conversation precedes quality of action:  Having the right conversations, with the right people, and the right information, leads to the right actions.
  4. Putting Human Beings back into the way we manage performance: Not simply employees in an organisation, but people, human beings, in a business.
  5. There are different types of performance management:  These various types of performance management interact and work together to influence behaviours and results.  You have to understand how the whole system works.
  6. It is not simply about control, but it is about learning.  The control model of performance management is too simplistic, and models of learning, both organisational and individual, are far more effective.

This is the approach our clients appreciate and benefit from, be they large, international, corporate or charities, SMEs or in the public sector.  You can read more about our clients here.

The Discipline & Culture of Performance

The discipline of performance

For us, the discipline of performance is about doing the basics.  The discipline of performance is the part most people focus on.  It is the easy part.  It is necessary, but far from sufficient.  To us it is merely a piece of the  jigsaw:  far from the whole picture.

“Our Balanced Scorecard roll out has been fantastic in helping with conversations and dialogue. It has forced our managers to think more strategically and talk to their teams about what is important.” Chris Ingram, Director Adepta

We have helped clients tackle the discipline of performance in many different ways. We have helped clients develop scorecards and strategy maps, develop meaningful measures and choose which KPIs to focus on.  We have helped them bring their projects into overall programmes that they can manage as a portfolio, along the way improving the discipline of project management and benefits realisation. We help them operate performance hubs, explore underlying problems and diagnose issues. They learn to define and follow up on actions: to be better at delegating and exception reporting.  They are having the right conversations, in the right meetings, with the right information to hand.

The culture of performance

“Our Balanced Scorecard has made a pretty decent bunch of managers, a pretty decent bunch of informed managers. It respects people’s opinions: the ability for people to allow their judgements to come through, is built in: judgement and evidence combined.” Steve Inch, Deputy Chief Executive, Dimensions

The catch is, no matter how good your discipline of performance, your cultural context will always trump it.

The Culture of performance is about the environment we create – you create. How we behave as managers influences other peoples’ behaviour. The choices we make about our approach to performance management influences behaviours.  We, as executives and managers, create the context in which that discipline of performance occurs.

Tackling your culture of performance is a deeper problem.  Yet, we have helped Executives improve their performance culture in organisations as diverse as FTSE listed companies, Start-ups and SMEs, Central and Local Government, Not for profits and charities.

There is more than one type of performance management.

We often get called in by clients to untangle and diagnose performance management problems.  We recognise that there are various types of performance management that work together and interact. For instance, how we manage strategy execution is different from operational performance management and again different from individual performance management. Board performance views are quite different from what middle managers want and quite different from the front line.  External reporting is different again.

Different types of performance management use different levers of control. For instance, external regulatory control and reporting defines boundaries and thing you must, or must not, do. Managing organisational strategy and change is about new behaviours.  How we manage day to day operational problems is different from the influence that purpose, values, and cultural norms, yet these are all forms of performance management.

And this has not even touched how different techniques for strategic management and performance management might clash.  For instance, the balanced scorecard and lean deployment were in use together in one of our clients and, because of how they were implemented, they were were causing confusion. By identifying where they clashed and why these two approaches were causing confusion, we were able to show them how the two approaches could easily work together in harmony, by implementing both properly.

Board reporting

Our clients’ requirements for board reporting have varied enormously, depending upon the Board’s style, needs and sector.  Getting this right helps the Chief Executive and executive team.  When working with FTSE listed companies,  board reporting is usually in a good state, though there are sometimes improvements to be made to one aspect: for instance strategy management or as with Pearl Assurance, regulatory reporting (FSA).

More often it is about giving the board confidence that the new strategy will continue to be successful. This was true with both the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the Social Care provider, Dimensions. In both cases our work involved giving their Boards information that helped them understand the situation and so judge the  progress that was being made.

“The Board has the detail and confidence they were looking for. Our balanced scorecard makes it far easier to prepare for Board meetings: I simply review our balanced scorecards and I feel I am fully briefed.” Dr Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive, Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund

Not for profit organisations often have representative boards and, with so many parties, these require specific attention.  For instance, Eurofound had board members from all the EU countries, while the Daisy Consortium board is made up of representatives from the publishing industry, publishers, standards bodies and representatives of disabled people.  In these cases board demands are quite varied and how you present material needs to reflect this.

With the boards of public sector bodies, we are seeing the influence of commercial practice, as commercially experienced non-executives are introduced.  These commercially minded non-executives are demanding the same sort of quality and details of information of the public sector bodies, as they receive on their commercial boards.  This is a challenge that public sector bodies are struggling with, due to a lack of investment in performance management tools and techniques and the dramatic change in style that is demanded.

Discussion amongst the executive team

Often we find that improving the quality of conversation and quality of information for executive and management teams, reaps benefits for the rest of the organisation.

“With our new approach to managing meetings we spend far less time on a much more focused and productive conversation.” Lindsay Stratton, Managing Director, Unite Modular Solutions

“We knew we had to focus on the big issues.  We now are better as a team addressing strategic issues, sharing ownership and taking corporate responsibility.”Trevor Gibson, Director of Environment and Planning, Peterborough City Council

“The big benefit has been clarity of purpose. You allowed us to approach issues in a less emotional and more systematic way. It makes the debate far more rational.”Trevor Gibson, Director of Environment and Planning, Peterborough City Council

“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.”Shelagh Grant, Director of Community Services, Peterborough City Council

Joined up thinking and working

A lot of our clients are wanting to improve their joined up thinking and working. For instance:

“We no longer see other departments as ‘the enemy’ fighting for resources against us. We have common objectives and can more easily relate to colleagues in another area. You can’t see this in a 40-50 page document. I can go to someone else as say ‘I don’t understand this or that’ on their strategy map. You can deal with it in a much more direct manner” Graeme Law, Environmental Planning Manager

  • At Unite Modular Solutions, we helped them integrate the sales, design and manufacturing teams together, so they coordinated demand and production.
  • Peterborough City Council wanted the benefits of joined up thinking and working without any re-organisation costs.  Our solution started in the executive suite and and worked through the organisation, creating a more integrated and customer focused organisation, without costly re-organisation.
  • Sometimes it is about synergy across business units. We helped Anglian Water Technology  to identify where synergy existed from amongst the acquired companies and how to work together as an executive team and across managers in various units, to unlock the benefits of that synergy.

In each case we were helping break down the traditional silos so the people in the organisation were free to talk to one another and perform better.

Are you serious about improving how you manage performance?

You can read some case studies of our work with clients.
You can read our white papers about the techniques.
You can read many articles in our blog.

But to really find out how we help clients, you’ll have to talk to us….