Learning Curve: Performance management

Does performance management have a future?

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

What is it? Management is all about performance: encouraging it, delivering it, maintaining it. Which is why it was slightly troubling to see the findings in workplace expert Roffey Park's annual 'management agenda' report, published in January. It revealed that performance management is probably being carried out more ineptly now than it has been for some years. Almost half the managers surveyed said that underperformance was not being handled at all well in their business or organisation - a five-year high. We are all supposed to be doing 'more with less' these days, but instead, it appears, we are doing 'less with less'.

Where did it come from? The idea that performance should be measured goes back a century, to the 'scientific management' introduced by Frederick Taylor. Taylorism still forms the basis for many managers' attitude to their colleagues' performance. But in these days of 'knowledge work', it gets harder to use conventional measures to assess employees' output. Perhaps this in part explains why Roffey Park found so many managers having doubts about their ability to manage other people's performance.

Where is it going? With any luck, managers will find better ways of managing performance. In his new book, What Matters Now (Jossey-Bass), Gary Hamel continues his attack on value-destroying bureaucracy. He almost wants to abolish management itself - certainly the sort of systems that stop people giving of their best. Hierarchies (and performance management structures) suppress initiative, limit people's contribution and make it harder for businesses to react to change. But companies that are more like markets encourage and reward people for performance. A nice trick to pull off if you can manage it.

Gradient: A steep and potentially unrewarding climb.

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