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Education and Learning

Performance Management for learning

The following is an exerpt from a conference paper presented by Aurel Brudan at the 2009 Performance Measurement Association Conference in Dunedin, New Zealand. An edited version of the paper was published in the Measuring Business Excellence Journal in 2010 (vol. 14, No. 1), under the title: “Rediscovering performance management: Systems, learning and integration

From performance management for control to performance management for learning

Traditionally, organisational performance management has been concerned with control, by setting and monitoring achievement of targets at strategic, operational and individual levels. Measurement has its benefits as it provides valuable information and measuring in itself stimulates higher performance.

The Hawthorn effect and the Westinghouse effect or “Observer’s paradox” (Cukor-Avila, 2000) demonstrate the delicate nature of the measuring process and the impact that measurement itself has on the results. At strategic level, senior management supported by management accountants and finance professionals focus their efforts in translating organisational objectives in quantifiable targets. These objectives and targets are delegated to functional areas for implementation. Compliance with set targets is checked on a regular basis. These strategic objectives are then aligned with operational objectives and individual performance objectives. However, empirical evidence shows that the focus on the measurement and control in the context of performance management has started to diminish in the 1990s, driven by the increase in popularity of the BSC, Knowledge Management and Systems Thinking. Even the BSC was first presented in 1992 as a measurement tool promoted by the management accounting school and having roots in the quality movement. However it evolved quickly to become a complete management system supporting strategy implementation as a core competency. As a performance management tool, the BSC enables not only measurement and control, but also communication and learning. This shift is supported by proponents of the knowledge management/intellectual capital school of thought who argue that “the main problem with all measurement systems is that it is not possible to measure social phenomena with anything close to scientific accuracy” (Sveiby and Armstong, 2004). They invoke Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to illustrate the inherent imprecision in measurement that exists even in “exact” sciences such as physics. The principle states that uncertainties, or imprecision, always turn up if one tries to measure the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time (Cassidy, 1993, 1998). Neils Bohr famously stated that “Accuracy and clarity of statement are mutually exclusive” (for further details see Pais, 1994). Measurement for rewards leaves room for interpretation in the process of setting targets and measuring results and quite often leads to abuse. Using targets for control and linking the achievement of these targets to individual performance has the risk of staff members manipulating the system to their benefit and the expense of other teams and even the entire organisation. The alternative proposed to measurement for control is measurement for learning, as illustrated by the table below:
Characteristic Measurement for control Measurement for learning
Measurement drivers



Measures development

Top-down commands

Process-oriented bottom-up approach

Measurement role

Measuring and managing work in functional activities.

Measuring and managing the flow of work thought the system

Measurement focus

Productivity output, targets, standards: related to budget

Capability, variation: related to purpose

Results communication



Target driven by

Budget/political aspirations

Understanding achievement versus purpose

Follow-up to results

Rewards, punishment and action to improve results

Dialogue and improvement

Learning cycle

Single loop

Double loop learning

Link to rewards

Link to individual rewards and recognition system

Group rewards, based on improvement


Table: Measurement for control compared to measurement for learning, Brudan, 2010

Thus the Systems Thinking approach to performance management, coupled with the emphasis on learning, highlight the need for an integrated approach to performance management. Effective performance management requires more than measuring and reporting in isolation.


  • Brudan A.N. (2010), “Rediscovering performance management: systems, learning and integration”, Measuring Business Excellence, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 109-123.
  • Cassidy, D. (1993), “Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg”, W. H. Freeman, New York, pp. 226-246.
  • Cassidy, D. C. (1998), “Answer to the Question: When Did the Indeterminacy Principle Become the Uncertainty Principle?” American Journal of Physics, Nr. 66, pp. 278-279
  • Cukor-Avila, P. (2000) “Revisiting the Observer’s Paradox”, American Speech, Vol.75, Nr. 3 pp. 253-254.
  • Pais, A. (1994), “Niels Bohr’s Times: In Physics, Philosophy, and Polity”, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England pp. 304-309.
  • Sveiby, K. E. and Armstrong C.(2004). “Learn to Measure to Learn!”, opening keynote address at the Intellectual Capital Congress Helsinki, 2 Sept 2004.


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