De-criticalising performance management process could be a step in right direction
Public sector enterprises (PSEs) need to switch to a performance management system (PMS) that not only celebrates tangible performance but also pays equal importance to intangibles like sustainability.
HR schools of ‘excellence’ have educated droves of human resource professionals who advocate the American hand-me-down PMS. Common terms that are bandied are High Performers, High Potentials and the Fast Trackers. Weeding out the bottom 10% like an organisational mine sweep is a practice in vogue in many of the ‘work hard, party harder’ organisations. All this is done with fairly moronic insensitivity. The forced distribution—the bell curve that tolls for the lesser of the equals—is a perverse solution garbed in statistical propriety.
It is unfortunate that our PSEs in pursuit of a mirage of ‘excellence’ have aped this model of performance management. As incongruous as elephants in dancing shoes, PSEs have adopted a system that is designed for culturally distinct private sector organisations whose nature of work and definition of performance in many cases are vastly different from their own. PSEs business in essence requires shop floor cooperation, dependence and reliability are tying themselves in knots trying to differentiate performers on degrees of ‘individual excellence’—an irrelevant measure for such organisations.
The biblical winnowing to separate the chaff from the grain, from which our performance management systems take a cue, is presumptuous in assuming that there exists the chaff and the grain in an organisation. It’s better to work with the whole grain; there are sustainable and mature organisations that work with the whole person to create an employee workforce and an organisation of character and strength.
Sacrificed at the altar of performance is often organisational sustainability. Fundamental requirements of performance indicators (reflected in the pedestrian acronym SMAC—specific, measurable, achievable, and challenging and its variants) are two things: tangibility and measurement. Anything that needs to be measured needs to be tangible and not inert. Much like the army general’s penchant for paint—anything stationary, doesn’t matter if it is a tree or a gate, must be painted and numbered. So too the management axiom, if it is performance it needs to be tangible and measurable. As performance needs to be measured (and sustainability can’t), the horizon of the measure is hardly beyond the tip of the nose.
Sustainability is unfortunately not as linear as performance indicators would like them to be. Sustainability is a result of a dynamic