Have we truly defined performance in business?

Performance. It’s a big word in the business world, with lots of time and money being spent on finding ways to improve it, be it performance management, development and training, or bringing the right people into your organisation, but organisations often make the mistake of thinking about how to improve performance before defining what it actually is…

So, what is performance to me? If I think back to school, performance was about making sure I got good enough grades to keep my parents happy. At university, performance was making sure I would get 2:1 (warranted or not!) whilst maintaining a social life. In sport, performance is winning the after-work netball league I play in with my friends. Pretty straight-forward, but we can already see ‘performance’ depends on the context.

But now, as I sit and look around our open-plan office and think about performance at work, it suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Is it fitting in with my peers, hitting my targets, working on the biggest and best accounts, working the most hours, talking to the most customers, doing better than my peers, my manager liking me, my cultural fit, my behaviour, my capability, my team’s achievements…?

The truth is, it’s some combination of all these factors that contribute to performance at work. But where we so often fall down is successfully collecting objective and high-quality data on these factors, and this is a challenge many of our clients face too.



When Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall re-designed Deloitte’s Performance Management process in 2015, they said: “In the end, it isn’t the particular number we assign someone, but the fact there is a single number.” I agree that without defining and capturing the variety of data points that represent performance in a specific role and organisation, performance metrics will never truly reflect reality in all its complexity. The challenge is to find a way of making this complex task of data collection and analysis easy and manageable.

In the majority of organisations, performance data is collected using performance management processes. However, a whopping 58% of organisations believe that current performance management doesn’t boost employee engagement or performance. And if you take a look at how organisations are approaching their performance management processes, you can understand why. Every client I speak to is on a journey with performance management – whether they’re refreshing it, getting rid of it altogether, re-introducing it, or don’t trust it but are continuing to use it anyway! Not only does this reflect low levels of confidence in how it’s working today, but it also creates a risk for how we measure the all-important performance metric over time. How we measure the impact of change initiatives and whether performance is improving – and that’s before we even get onto the individual, who can find it difficult to understand how they’re doing themselves, whether they’ve just started the job or they’ve been there for years.

So, not only do we need to find the correct data points to truly measure performance, using highly contextual data that captures the complexity of reality, but we also need to make sure we’re measuring it consistently over time. Easy, right?

Perhaps not today, but as organisations make the shift towards a more data-driven approach to managing people at work – as Google and Adidas already are – the capability to create models that can be tested over time, and refined with a range of data inputs to truly define what performance is, will grow. This is Deloitte’s focus for the future, too.

If your organisation doesn’t have this technical expertise or ambition, there are still short-term steps you can take. Putting more focus on thinking about performance in the context of the role and organisation, looking at the data you already collect (or could easily collect), and collecting that data over time – all of this will get you closer to the truth about performance. It will also lead to better long-term results when trying to improve performance, and a more meaningful outcome for both the organisation and the individual.

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Aug, 11, 2017

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