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Academic Interview: Mohamad Yassine, Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Adjunct Professor at Gulf University for Science & Technology, Kuwait

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yassinefinalThe KPI Institute’s Performance Management in 2014: GCC Special Edition report is built on the belief that a balanced approach in such research endeavours can only be achieved by triangulating the opinions of practitioners, academics and consultants alike. In 2014, Mohamad Yassine, Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Adjunct Professor at Gulf University for Science & Technology in Kuwait, was one of the academics who offered us rich insights into performance related research and trends.

“Performance management is part of the daily work, and daily work is managing performance.”

  1. What does the term Performance Management mean to you?

Performance management, to me, is basically an integrated function that seeks to successfully capture the business value proposition of the company, the fond in the organizational business strategy. And this happens through thorough execution, and alignment, of the business objectives, and the incentives, of the stakeholders throughout the organization, all the way down to employees, and linking that to the daily activities. Performance management includes building, and maintaining, the organizational infrastructure. It also includes training and coaching employees, and keeping the right information, which is very important to the right stakeholders, at the right time.

  1. What drives interest in Performance Management?

Well, not only nowadays, always, and it will always be this way: what will drive interest in performance management is basically competition, harsh competition, and profitability, because it’s at the end of the day, no matter what type of approach, or balanced approach you look at, the business is always generating money, and the due amount will basically be the final decider. Also, another renewed interest in performance management is the need for more transparency and accountability alongside, nowadays, compliance with regulations. It’s also another reason, or another driver, for performance management.

  1. What are your thoughts on the relationship between Performance Management at organizational, departmental and individual level?

Organizations are operated by employees, which are usually organized in departments, or units. So, ideally, each employee contributes to the performance of his/her unit which, in turn, contributes to the performance of the organization. That’s the simple physics of the problem. So, a successful performance management system should capture explicitly this relationship, and it should catalyze and improve the performance, by showing each individual and each department what role they play in the big picture.

  1. What are the 2014 key trends in Performance Management from your point of view?

In 2014, the main trends were a continuation of the previous trends, which are mainly new developments in the IT sector, or are affected by the new developments in the IT sector. Specifically speaking, the new trends in business intelligence, big data analytics, also business mobility, for example, are very important nowadays, as most businesses, and most tools, are mobile. Also, a lot of data is being generated nowadays and it makes sense that, through business intelligence, it is being used for performance management. So, that’s the main new trend.

  1. What aspects of Performance Management should be explored more through research?

I think that some of the most important aspects that should be investigated more is how strategies between performance management, and other emerging business practices, such as HR talent management, for example, can be captured. That is the synergy between talent management and performance management. How employee incentives can be successfully aligned with performance, and organizational incentives, without negatively affecting the performance itself. Or, maybe, without also triggering unfavorable behaviors of employees, such as gaming. Also, some of the important aspects that need to be investigated are how the investment costs of setting a performance management can be further minimized or even, at least, optimized. How performance management can achieve the state of the art learning environment and adapt to organizations which, basically, utilize and disseminate knowledge effectively. These are, pretty much, what I think about the current, most demanding aspects that need to be investigated through research.

  1. Which companies would you recommend to be looked at, due to their particular approach to Performance Management and subsequent results?

There are plenty of examples, of course, but this is something that I had recently looked at. I would suggest to look at what the higher education sector is doing with performance management because, with the shrinkage of funding, higher education institutions really came under huge pressure to optimize their resources, and to know where to allocate resources, and this triggers huge performance management initiatives. As we all know, higher education institutions are big organizations, and they tend to be very complex, and very rigid in terms of structure. Also, another industry I would suggest to look at is the healthcare industry. What these people are doing in performance management, and the reason why they are doing a good job, is because it’s a big industry and they want to minimize risk. They always seek to minimize risk, as it is related to human health, and they are really doing some good work in terms of performance, and enterprise risk management. One company I suggest to look at Comic Relief, which was founded in the ‘80s. Comic Relief is a non-profit charity organization that managed to really stick to the state-of-the-art strategy and performance management systems. It became one of the leading and innovative charity organizations in the United Kingdom. Of course, there are many other examples, but that’s pretty much what comes to my mind.

  1. Which are the main challenges in today’s Performance Management practice?

The main challenges are always related to humans, aren’t they? And that’s basically something that, typically, we face every day: the resistance to change, to accountable teams and transparency, the resistance to learning, because with performance management, and the new tools of performance management, people are demanded to learn more. And, usually, people are not happy about learning more. People like to remain in the comfort zone. So these are the main challenges I see. Of course, there are some of the hot challenges in terms of competition, and budget which, again, are physical challenges. Major challenges that I see is have to do with resistance and organizational culture.

  1. What do you think should be improved in the use of Performance Management tools and processes?

I think the user interface, the user friendliness of the concepts of performance management definitely needs to be improved. Performance management is being seen as a very hard thing to do, and something that we should do on top of our daily work. When performance management is introduced to the user, a coherent framework of the way of doing work should also be introduced to that user so that he does not have to do performance management beyond and above the daily work. Performance management is part of the daily work, and daily work is managing performance. So, that is one aspect that I can see that should be improved in performance management. Another thing is, and I know this might be hard, the standardization of performance management, maybe not as status scope standard system, but maybe as a multiple system of performance management, that really looks for the needs, demands, and requirements for every institution or organization. In terms of tools, I think we are doing well. In terms of technology, as far as performance management is concerned, it is, in fact, even ahead of us. Whatever technology you want, whatever data acquisition system you want, you just name it at whatever provider you want. You can have it. It is not about technology anymore. The bottom line, now, is in the user and in the operator.

  1. What would you consider best practices in Performance Management?

The practice of performance management is very context-dependent. But I would say the best methodology of performance management, or best approach, is that which really simplifies the problem, simply simplifies the performance management in the eyes of the user. It delivers consistent results and it connects daily operations with long term strategy. Those are, I think, the main criteria of what a good performance management should achieve. You can have the most sophisticated performance management system and, in terms of design, it’s really doing a marvelous job. But once implemented, it could fail. I would give the example of GE. The company GE is one of the leading technology companies in the world.  They have a very simple performance management and goal setting system that was developed by Jack Welch himself. He basically demanded that the strategy, or the objectives, of the unit should not exceed one page. And measures and achievements should be another one page. And the reason for this is that he wanted to emphasize that the performance management system is not another documentation requirement, but it is a tool that needs to really make you think about tomorrow, and think about how I am going to get there, and how I know what I have there.

  1. Which aspects of Performance Management should be emphasized during educational programs?

I do not think that an undergraduate level education in performance management is sufficient. Maybe, a Masters’ level of business administration, or project management, so to speak, is. This is what I think of, in terms of graduate education. But, in terms of bodies of knowledge, I can rephrase this question: what bodies of knowledge I think should be included into the performance management body of knowledge? I would look at, for example, Quality Management, of course. That is one important field, in terms of managing performance. Another is Information Management Systems: looking at how information can be managed, accessed, retrieved, and communicated. That’s another important thing. Of course, strategy, operational research and management, data analysis, software design, all of these are really important aspects that should be part of the education, in terms of performance management. And, again, we should focus on who is the audience. Are we talking about the user, or the practitioners? We are talking about practitioners.

To summarize, strategic and operational management, performance research, or operational research, quality management, data analysis, information management, innovation, a structured enterprise should all be considered in the educational programs of performance management.

  1. Which are the limits in order to achieve higher levels of proficiency in Performance Management among practitioners?

How are you measuring proficiency? If we are measuring proficiency in terms of exam grades, I think they’re limitless, because it depends on the exam, doesn’t it? The limit, in that case, is the exam certification and the skills of the practitioner. But, if we are talking about limits in terms of actual results, there would be, theoretically speaking, two poles to the limits. There are hard and soft limits. I would group technologies, systems, and processes, in the hard limits category. And I don’t see limits in here. I see no limits in the current, and the future, trends in technology, as far as performance management is concerned. In the soft factors, or aspects, category I would group competencies, people and managing change, managing the market, surviving the competition. Competition, nowadays, is very harsh. And employees, talent migration, or talent retention is a major issue. A company can develop a system that is championed by one of their key thought leaders, or thought leaders, as we call them. However, tomorrow, this employee might leave somewhere else. And these are the real challenges to a team: the ability to team up change agents, system architects and competencies.

  1. If you are to name, in a few words, the main aspects governing Performance Management today, what would they be?

I wouldn’t say that technology is a main aspect anymore because, you see, technology is in excess. I think the main aspects nowadays are talent, competency and, basically, surviving the competition, or being competitive. Let’s frame it as competitiveness, effectiveness, talent and sustainability.

  1. What is your opinion on the emerging trend of measuring performance outside working hours?

I think it’s a great idea. But, of course, it does not come without a risk free tag, doesn’t it? It’s really interesting. Actually, I’ve just ordered my Fitbit Tracker yesterday. And it’s a great idea to have these things. But, again, we are generating tons of information about ourselves. And the way this information is being used, regarding identity, and personal security, isn’t truly clear. However, I think that the issue of security, personal identity, and all this type of information classification, will become irrelevant because of the internet. All things, and all the developed interconnections, our online identity, is revealed more with every hour and, whatever information you need to find about somebody you’ve seen, you can just Google that person’s name and find it. So, I think we should worry less about information security nowadays, and focus more on how to utilize this. And I’m totally for this type of personal performance management, as long as it’s really tied with true science, and not just another scam or a hoax.

  1. Are you using any kind of personal performance measurement tools? If yes, please describe how this has influenced your life.

Well, I keep talking on my cell phone nowadays, don’t I? How many steps have I been going back and forth? There are a lot of trackers embedded in cell phones nowadays and, without mentioning a brand, most of the trackers are really not very effective, unfortunately. However, tracking your sleep is a good idea because I’m sure that if you live on Earth, you like sleep, don’t you?

Our sleep might be, and is, a KPI of performance, personal performance. There are truly plenty of things that, in terms of personal devices and personal trackers, will really change the shape of human interactions, and of humanity. I would just give it another couple of years, 2 to 3 years, and this is really in terms of personal devices, personal trackers, connections for whatever censor, wherever you want. Specifically, because I’m tightly informed in science, with the development of Nano-technology. Nano-technology offers great, and efficient, technology in terms of data acquisition and, basically, all these types of things. I would use whatever tools that are, in fact, available, in order to measure performance or, at least, try it and see if I like them because my personal goal is to be the best I can. And I need to manage this.

  1. Do you have any tips for successfully managing one’s work-life balance? What are your thoughts?

There is one piece of advice I always give to my employees. And this is what I tell them: The day I’m going to die, if I don’t die, I will be working. So, work is never finished. We package work into projects, into activities, but work is always there, and it will always be there. And one day, if you don’t die, you’ll most likely be sitting at your desk working.

Therefore, in order to manage and to succeed at work, and in your personal life, do not focus on work, focus on your personal life. In order to get better performance at work, give your employees training outside work. Let them learn music, focus on something that they love so that they excel on other parts because you are the same person outside, and inside the working environment, and, whatever you do outside, will affect your work. And whatever you do at work, will affect your life. So, my piece of advice is to focus less on work, and focus more on life, so that you succeed more in work, and in your life.

  1. We are developing a database of Performance Management subjects and degrees. Which are the subjects/degrees you have come across and at which university? (i.e. subjects or degrees such as the Masters in Managing Organizational Performance)

Good degrees to look at are those in high educational leadership and in workforce development. These are really good places to look at. I would add to this, of course, all those that have a Master at the postgraduate level. I would add to these degrees, or programs, those that have to do with business sustainability. It’s a very new, emerging concept in terms of sustainability, morals, environmental aspects, environmental sustainability, and try to embed these in terms of business sustainability. I would add also to this a degree in industrial engineering that focuses on lean management, lean production systems and lean transformation. All these fields are very important. They have, in fact, contributed to develop my skills.

For more interviews with specialists in the field, peruse through our report Performance Management in 2014: GCC Special Edition! Should you be interested in having your interview featured in one of our publications, contact us at editor@kpiinstitute.org!

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