Saturday, January 26, 2008

Perspectives on performance management

By Maya Baltazar herrera

The observable performance of an organization—its productivity, the quality of its products, its economic performance—is only the top layer of a complex system. Observable behavior is the offshoot of deeper layers.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is by way of analogy versus the observable layer of individual performance—behavior. Many organizations attempt to manage individual performance almost in a classical conditioning manner, invoking carrots and sticks with little or no consideration of either the internal psyche of the individual nor his general environment or circumstances.

A more enlightened approach to individual performance takes into account the realities of the performance situation. Such things as the availability of resources, the level of ability of the individual vis-Ă -vis the task at hand, the quality of role models to which the individual is exposed to, and the quality of his motivation concerning the task all affect individual performance.

Cause and effect

Clearly then, individual performance, which is measured in terms of behavior have both cognitive (e.g. ability and organization cues) as well as emotional (e.g. motivation) roots.

Beyond this, from a sustainable performance point of view, it also makes sense to understand how general performance norms are formed. What differentiates the peak performer from the mediocre? How are the habits that lead towards sustained performance developed? One of the theories propounded to explain peak performers is that of efficient thinking (Katzenbach, 2000). This theory essentially says that it is a person’s essential mindset that determines his emotional response to events, and, hence, his reaction or behavior. Thinking leads to feeling leads to doing.

A similar process occurs within organizations. The outward and observable layer of organization performance is what I think of as the mechanical facet of the organization. However, under the mechanical facet is the emotional undertone—the culture of the organization. Underneath of all of this are the roots of culture, the deep shared mindsets of the organization—those that are planted in values and policies but are formed by the daily operations of governance and management decision-making.

Layers of change

Every organization is defined by a set of mental constructs shared by the members of the organization. In a stable organization, these constructs are congruent with the formal policies, systems and structures of the organization as well as its unwritten mores and its culture.

When an organization is underperforming, change is required.

Organization change involves the co-creation by organization members of a new set of mental constructs and the creation of a new set of policies, systems, structures and mores that define the new reality for the organization.

Cameron and Green (2004) build on the work of Morgan (1986) and identify four organization metaphors that are most used to provide insights on organization change:

• Organizations as machines

• Organizations as political systems

• Organizations as organisms; and

• Organizations as flux and transformation.

The reality, of course, is that organizations are all of the above. They are machines in that there are formal structures and policies and standard methods of doing things. However, unlike true machines, organizations have pieces that think for themselves—and therefore, do not always follow the set direction. Organizations are political systems because they are composed of people. Organizations are organisms because groups of people working together evolve a rhythm, a way of thinking together and doing things together. Finally, organizations are a process of flux and transformation because they exist over time, and therefore, evolve.

In fact, I suspect that one of the easiest ways to think of organizations is as a sort of super-organism. Like any organism, the organization super-organism interacts with its environment. However, because its parts are self-aware, the organization must necessarily be seen as, at least partly, the sum of its many thinking, independent yet cooperating parts.

This is important because organization change involves changing two things: the organization and the individuals in the organization.

It is almost impossible to inflict change on an individual. Change can be offered—enticing, tempting, compelling.

In an organization that is changing, a battle rages. Entrenched forces of resistance battle the invading agents of change. Successful change requires that the fortresses of resistance be converted or eliminated— lest they calcify into seeds of destruction. --(Manila Standard Today)

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