Friday, April 6, 2012

'Why' manage performance?

People - and organisations - sometimes get so caught up performing a role that they don't serve a purpose.  They focus on the 'what', do detriment of the 'why'.  This is a pet hate of mine because it has so many knock-on effects, in particular preventing people from working together.  Many organisational cultures of defensive isolation, finger pointing etc. are fed by the prioritisation of roles over creating value, particularly in a high pressure and highly accountable environment.

So in other words, places like the public service.

Under a 'managerial' approach, internal performance systems are usually set up to do exactly this.  It is assumed that managers can identify the best way for those accountable to them to do what the organisation needs to do.  Often, this means taking the 'why', of the purpose of the organisation, and translating it into a 'what', of what other employees need to do.

This isn't always the case, but often good employees (including good managers) need to fight against their performance system to break through with the 'why' of the reason they are there - and restore a bit of humanity to the work.

Listening to Simon Sinek's TED talk on the central importance of 'why' in leadership (despite its frequent relegation to being a footnote), really highlights how back-to-front a performance system is when based on roles and activities, and strips the 'why' out.  I comfortably call it an anti-human approach - it strips leadership and motivation out of the work relationships.

So why manage performance like that?  It doesn't need to be like that at all - there is plenty of room for the 'why', it just needs to be returned to its priority position.

John Baxter

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