I work right at the empty heart of command and control in corporate performance monitoring.
Here you will find the usual nonsense about targets and benchmarking and that, but there’s also some others weirder assumptions, ones that people don’t usually talk about as they rarely are talked about even amongst performance people.
The 3 Astounding Assumptions That Performance People Have To Make To Keep The Show On The Road!
1: A thing called “over performance” can cure “under performance”
Where you will find it: When cornered as to what exactly could happen when a performance scorecard is looked at in a boardroom
What it is: A performance person might say something like:
“the scorecard can help identify areas of over performance, so resources can be moved to under performing areas”
Presumably this means when a the senior leaders of the council are sitting round the big table, each holding in their hand a scorecard covered in traffic light colours of red, green and amber, they will spot a red and the conversation goes something like below…
Why it is ridiculous: Really, I need to go into this? Just getting somebody to say the words out loud always creases me up. I am a cruel and unforgiving person who is going to Hell.
2: A performance indicator improves slowly through chipping away laboriously at it.
Where you will find it: during a target setting exercise, when annual plans are being drawn up.
What it is: Imagine a jogger. She runs 3 miles at a time of 30 minutes. A month of training reduces that to 29 minutes. Further training reduces it to 28 minutes, and so on. Imagine the same with an indicator of something like educating kids to a particular level of literacy and numeracy. In year 1 the indicator improves by 1%, in year 2 it takes that and adds another 1% so there is an improvement of 2% on baseline year, in year 3 we improve a further 1% and so on.
A performance person faced with a nice steady projection of improvement will be at ease. The same performance person faced with 3 years of targets that improve at a jagged rate over the 3 years like 0.67%, 3.2% & 3.3% will smell a rat, things just don’t work like that! Why the 0.67%? What’s that about? Spurious accuracy aside, why not?
Because its not neat. It looks odd compared with neat increases of 1% or 2%. To a performance person, this is troubling. It raise questions that can’t be answered, not just about that indicator but all the others. If some smart-arse is allowed to get away with that, what does it say for all the other performance indicators marching slowly, in neat increments that make sense.
Why it’s ridiculous: The issue of targets at all is not the issue here. It’s the mind-bending assumptions that it drives. That somebody can “predict” improvement at all is odd. You haven’t done it yet! That some performance person assumes the world changes in neat increments, and feels qualified and entitled to ask questions because someone else suggests that it doesn’t. God, why are we even having this conversation, if you have to ask…
3: A “review” is an actual thing
Where you would find it: In a plan or other type of optimistic document just underneath a list of targets, next to a question or statement phrased something like “how we will achieve our targets”
What it is: A statement like “We will review our Housing allocation process to drive efficiencies.” or “To achieve top quartile performance we will review our customer service”
Why it’s ridiculous: Imagine a review…
As far as I can tell, a “review” is carried out by expecting other, lower, life forms to carry out a “review“. A self-referential, Russian Doll affair, whereby the expectation of improvement is cascaded lower down the golden thread, until it can’t be avoided any more.
The poor unfortunate is then faced with a task of improvement, with no method to achieve it. To make it worse, if they were to find a method somehow then they would find that the problem ultimately lies further above them, the thinking of the the people who cascaded the task to them in the first place. Reviews as a thing, don’t exist, not in the sort of world where they are the answer to the question “How will you meet your target?“.
So, there’s your 3 things. I wade through this so you don’t have to. It’s important to point out, I don’t work in Remedial Policy & Performance, on the Council’s thicko table. I am surrounded by people with degrees who read the Guardian and watch Norwegian crime dramas. This isn’t about them. Us. It’s the system man, it makes cretins of us all.