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Consultant Interview: Sam Plummer

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In 2016, the Performance Magazine editorial team interviewed Sam Plummer, Public Administrative Reform Consultant to The Ministry of Civil Service/Council for Administrative Reform, Cambodia, for the “Performance Management in 2015: ASEAN Special Edition” report. His thoughts and views on Performance Management are detailed below.

There’s an increasing recognition that an organization’s worth lies not in their plan or systems, but in their human resources.

Trends

  1. Which are the 2015 key trends in Performance Management, from your point of view?

As markets mature across the ASEAN region and companies prepare for the increased opportunities and competition that the ASEAN Economic Community will bring, there is an increasing demand for effective performance management practices.

There is also a growing focus on performance within public sectors as the demand for improved public services increases, and the development sector is also moving from a focus on provision to one of performance and quality as funding becomes harder to secure for the region.

At the same time, there is a growing global realization that formal, process-driven performance management can actually constrain performance. Factors such as rapid economic growth and expanding market opportunities, technological development and increasing public service expectations are forcing organizations to re-examine how they manage their performance.

New project management methodologies such as agile in the tech sector and problem-driven iterative adaptation in the development sector are influencing the way we plan and measure performance, and companies including Deloitte, Accenture and Microsoft have recently conducted significant overhauls of their individual performance evaluation systems, to remove bureaucracy and the inherent bias and to re-focus them on improving performance and motivating staff.

  1. What are your thoughts on the integration of Performance Management at organizational, departmental and employee level?

There obviously needs to be good integration across the three levels, but this is not simply about rolling planning and measurement processes down through the organization. Many organizations rely on performance management systems to drive performance without realizing that it is the corporate values that underpin behavior and performance.

These values will guide managers in regards to the way they recruit, develop and manage, and staff in the way they perform, while the performance management system operates more as an information and measurement system to ensure that everyone is oriented towards the same performance goals.

  1. Which will be the major changes in managing performance, in the future?

There’s an increasing recognition that an organization’s worth lies not in their plan or systems, but in their human resources. I think this will lead to an increasing realization that performance is more than the sum of its parts.

It’s not about adding up individual or departmental contributions to the bottom line as a measure of organizational performance and more about engaging with individuals, building teams and establishing healthy values to support sustainable performance.

In addition, the increasing flexibility of the workforce will require new ways of managing performance, encouraging more of a focus on quality and delivery instead of hours worked and activities completed.

Research

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

We’re all well aware of the different cultural effects on effective performance management, but there is relatively little research currently available on the effectiveness of performance management practices in the ASEAN region – we tend to rely on research conducted in western countries and organizations that often doesn’t translate to our region.

The growing focus on performance management in the region would be best served by research into areas such as effective staff motivation, reward and recognition and staff development practices. Another interesting area of research is that of the core values that are common across ASEAN organizations and their implications for effective performance management practices.

  1. Which organizations would you recommend to be looked at, due to their particular approach to managing performance, and their subsequent results?

I wouldn’t specify a particular organization but I would remind practitioners that every organization has its own particular culture, values and systems and so what works in one organization won’t necessarily work in another. The starting point for the development of effective performance management is always within the organization.

Others’ research and practices may provide a source of inspiration but its best to look at the particular context and needs of your own organization.

  1. What Performance Management question would you like to have answered by researchers?

I’d like to know how to best link pay to performance, especially in the ASEAN context. I’ve seen many organizations implement such systems but end up with quite some perverse outcomes as staff pursue individual work objectives at the expense of organizational goals.

I think that there needs to be more of a focus on linking rewards to organizational outcomes, with the aim of engendering the engagement of staff in the organization’s success, rather than trying to breaking these objectives down to an individual level.

Of course different types of pay for performance schemes are going to work in different sectors and contexts, but if researchers could provide us with a conclusive statement on what works, we’d all be better off!

Practice

  1. Which are main challenges of Performance Management in practice, today?

I think the main challenge is getting managers to stop relying on performance management systems and to start engaging directly and regularly with their staff about their performance on a regular basis. And the starting point for this is to ensure that a performance management system is not a complex bureaucratic requirement but a tool that is useful to managers in the performance of their job.

Managers need to be held accountable for the performance of their teams and to be given the tools that they require to do their job as managers. So performance management systems need to be simple, flexible and owned by managers.

We shouldn’t judge managers on their ability to complete complex performance planning or review activities – we should simply encourage them to deliver results.

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

Performance management tools and processes should simply clarify the organization or department’s goals and then support the achievement of those goals. They need to remain flexible and useful.

There needs to be a shift away from trying to measure performance at every level to one of identifying ways of improving performance – more of a focus on things like what can be done to improve structures, supply chains, systems and processes, what staff training and development is needed, what extra resources might improve performance.

Needless to say, this requires a two-way communication channel – managers providing feedback to staff and staff providing feedback to managers.

  1. What would you consider as a best practice in Performance Management?

Best practice in performance management is excellent managers. Systems cannot substitute for managers so organizations should focus on establishing the right values and culture and developing managers to lead their teams.

The result will be that you don’t need fancy systems and that you have the flexibility to respond to needs as they emerge, at the individual, department or organization level.

Personal Performance

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

The number and diversity of apps available to help individuals “perform” in their personal life – related to health, wealth, time management etc – is increasing exponentially. But of course we each have our own technology thresholds and personal goals.

I’ve watched some people let their lives become dominated by some of these apps either without achieving anything or stopping to enjoy the benefits. I’d suggest that we should be discreet in what we choose to use – stay aware of the goals that you value and employ appropriate tools and approaches to help you achieve them.

  1. What personal performance measurement tools do you use?

An exercycle and a stopwatch!

Specific Question

  1. What are the processes and tools you look at, in order to differentiate a successful performance management system, from a superficial one?

The best measure of a performance management system is its perception by managers and staff. If it is viewed as a bureaucratic requirement that takes extra time and effort, it is not effective. If it is recognized as a useful management tool and referenced and used by managers and staff in their daily work, then it is doing its job.

To this end, performance management systems should be simple and effective. Great systems will never outperform great managers when it comes to getting the best out of a group of people, but effective systems can always help managers to improve the performance of their team.

At the end of the day, performance management is about bringing people together in the pursuit of common goals.


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