Everyone knows Godwin’s Law, the First Law Of The Internet that broadly says in an internet argument the first person to invoke comparisons with the Nazis has lost.
I think this is unfair, not on the Nazis obviously, but on people who want to make comparisons. The Nazis are cartoonishly evil and can be stereotyped without anyone sane sticking up for them, and everybody’s heard of them. Ripe for comparison making. Why not eh?
So this is…
5 things Performance Management has in common with the Nazis
1: Performance management is about performance like the Nazis were about socialism
The full name of the Nazis, the one they used when booking tables at restaurants, was the National Socialists. But there was nothing you would recognise as socialist about them.
Just as there is very little about performance in performance management. Performance management doesn’t just as National Socialism isn’t.
Don’t be fooled by the name, performance management isn’t about managing anything, least of all”performance“. If you were to expect any of the things that WOULD enable you to do something good with work, you wouldn’t find it in a performance management report. To be clearer you COULDN’T find it in a performance report. Why? Well…
2: No matter how well it all starts, performance management ends badly. Just like the Nazis.
The Nazis were initially democratically elected to power, unbelievable as it may sound. This doesn’t mean they were a sound political party that campaigned only on the issues and not on personalities. You Know Who made sure he was at the centre of it all and had armed thugs to ensure that opposition parties were kept subjugated. So once they’d won enough votes, they settled in for a democracy-free glorious thousand year reign. Thankfully Russian tanks roused them a few years later.
Just like performance management.
It starts off with honest claims about ensuring priories are delivered, that performance is driven upwards and efficiencies are pursued.
It soon becomes a load of cobblers though. Once it starts it’s all about defence and attack using performance reports to justify your position.
This is because what Command and Control organisations generally do, without knowing it, is pursue Management by Objective, a discredited management theory that reeks of the 1970s.
In MBO the point of performance reports is to justify whether or not something has been achieved, this results in a person “owning” an objective using performance reports to show that they have been achieved. This is like a drunkard using a lamppost, used more for support than for illumination.
Soon anyone else who doesn’t “own” that objective can only use performance information to “challenge” the story being presented to them.
It turns into a game of swords and shields, rather than anything useful.
So why does it continue? Why doesn’t someone stop it if it is so destructive? Well…
3: Those involved in Performance Management think they’re the good guys. Just like the Nazis
Important to note here I AM NOT COMPARING PEOPLE WHO DO PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT WITH THE NAZIS
As that would be silly, rude and over the top.
However I am comparing them to the Nazis a little bit. Nobody other than a Bond villain or General Zod actually thinks that they’re one of the baddies. I’m betting the Nazis didn’t either.
There’s a brilliant comedy sketch where a Nazi catches sight of the cool looking skull on his uniform and wonders, just wonders, whether he’s on the side of the baddies. How could you tell without clearly defined uniforms?
It’s not about goodies and baddies, and if it were you certainly couldn’t tell them apart by the way they dressed. It’s about the thinking and the mental models being used. It’s about the system they are in. It’s built in. So why don’t they change if it’s all so awful? Well…
4: It’s in their nature. Just like the Nazis.
The Scorpion and the Frog
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”
The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”
Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”
Performance management is as performance management does. Just as the Nazis were the Nazis.
Try and bring in something good and new from outside this thinking, and you’ll be stung.
I used to try to talk to performance people about control charts, they asked how they could be used to set targets.
People can change, I changed. But the thing itself can’t. It is defined by the thinking that created it. That people can’t be trusted, that people higher up the chain have a wider strategic view and know more so can pass judgement on work going on below them purely by glancing at a score card and applying their superior strategic vision.
Me trying to introduce control charts into that is like just taking the embroidered skulls off a uniform. It’s just a bit of decoration. But the thinking behind it remains. It’s in its nature.
So don’t expect a performance management officer to start ripping up scorecards, just because they’ve been shown control charts. They need them, as it’s in their nature.
There’s one last thing…
5: They’re both laughable.
Comedians love dressing up as Nazis. It’s inherently funny seeing pomposity pricked, and like Sir Thomas More said:
The devil… that proud spirit… cannot endure to be mocked”
I fear the same is true of performance management. There’s nothing more insufferable than a performance management believer. They are everything you’d imagine them to be. Unimaginative, a concrete thinker with little grasp of the complexity of real life. Thankfully they are very rare. I’ve only ever come across a handful.
The po-faced simplistic thinking that drives the mechanistic “set objective/deliver objective” belief is laughable. Ha-ha I laugh.
So there are my 5 reasons why Performance Management is like the Nazis. I hope nobody thinks I’m calling them a Nazi, or that I’m belittling the memory of what happened when the real foul creatures stalked the earth.
Instead I’m merely hoping to change the world in my image using rhetoric to belittle harmless beleaguered minorities… Oh, hang on…