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Expert Interview – Ali El Dirani, Assistant Professor in Management, American University of Middle East, Kuwait

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Ali El Dirani Interview Performance Management in 2013For the report Performance Management in 2013, The KPI Institute conducted 20 semi-structured interviews with practitioners, academics and consultants from 18 countries, who offered rich insights into the state of Performance Management as a discipline.

One of the main editorial rules followed in the development of the content is that a discipline can only evolve through the combined efforts of practitioners, academics and consultants. Dr. Ali El Dirani, Assistant Professor in Management at the American University of Middle East, Kuwait was one of the academics that The KPI Institute has interviewed.

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

I will put Performance Management in a definition from my experience and my readings as an ongoing, continuous and systematic approach and process for evaluating employees’ performance and group performance and linking this evaluation with the organization’s strategy, the unit strategy, the mission and the vision of the organization for the sake of continuous improvement and increasing individuals’ and groups’ productivity and, therefore, the productivity of the entire organization. So, for this definition I have three main issues: it’s a continuous and the systematic approach, so it’s something that should be done regularly, it’s not a one time process, it should be linked to the strategy of the organization and it should, in the end, increase the whole performance of the organization.

2. What drives interest in Performance Management?

What drives interest in Performance Management is increasing the performance of employees and therefore increasing the performance of the organization. It’s a whole system, it’s a very critical and essential part of any organization’s life and cycle. You  cannot do human resource management without Performance Management and you cannot increase the productivity of individuals without having a performance system. So it is like the DNA of any organization and at the heart and center of any organizational plans and development objectives.

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

This is the whole story of Performance Management, you cannot see Performance Management without seeing the whole picture of the organization, so it all starts from the mission, vision and strategy of the organization. If you put these things on top, under these, it comes the strategy and the mission and the vision of the units inside the organization, and then if you move one more level down, you come to Human Resources practices that are linked to these 2 components, and then at the end it comes the individual performance, so it’s all linked together, you cannot separate them from each other. It starts from the broader understanding, the direction of the organization, how the organization sees itself in the future and what matters for the organization and it finishes with the individual performance, so they are all linked together, and you cannot understand individual performance without understanding and linking it clearly with the mission and the vision of the organization, and that’s what we consider as being the strategic and the general considerations in any Performance Management system.

4. What are the 2013 key trends in Performance Management from your point of view?

It depends on the context. If we are talking about the Middle East, the main issue here is defining standards in order to evaluate individuals’ performance. Also, there is the external influences of globalization, of technology, of learning organizations, of stakeholders’ inputs into Performance Management. In my opinion finding a link between a well-established and implemented Performance Management system and Key Performance Indicators for the organization is what makes the Performance Management system stronger, the link between Performance Management and, for example, the profitability of the organization, Performance Management and the reputation of the organization, Performance Management and key human resources management practices such as over rates, employee satisfaction, employee motivation and loyalty to the organization.

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

Through research we need to find more practical and applicable Key Performance Indicators and we need to study more the balance between the results and behavior and how important these two aspects should be in any Performance Management system. Also, we have to study how we should link Performance Management with the strategy of the organization, because one of the big risks is to have a Performance Management system that is disconnected from the strategy of the organization and, therefore, employees are disconnected as well and their performance is not linked clearly with the overall picture.

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

Of course the multinational, big companies, they have well established Performance Management systems – like Toyota, BMW, Apple, Google or Microsoft, all these companies have very good Performance Management systems. Here in Kuwait, things are still at the start, but I had the opportunity to know more about Performance Management system at Al Sayer company, and I can say they have a really good Performance Management system.

7. What do you think are the main challenges of Performance Management in practice today?

There are many challenges, I will list them in no particular order. First of all, there are no trained raters, and there is a lack of communication, especially with employees, and this is very important in Performance Management, to communicate very well with employees. Secondly, Performance Management is not clearly linked and connected with HRM functions, such as reward and compensation, training and development and career planning, you cannot have a Performance Management system without linking it with the HR functions. Also, there is no clear link between Performance Management and the strategy of the organization, there is a lack of clear job analysis and clear job description and specifications, no clear link between Performance Management and core competencies and standards, and also there is no regular evaluation. We also have an important issue related to raters’ distortion. Sometimes raters give inflated or deflated evaluation for employees. These are some of the main challenges in any Performance Management system.

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

If we defined the challenges as barriers for the implementation, now we need to work on those areas. So we need to emphasize the importance of communication and increase the involvement of the employees, we need to have well trained raters, we need to train as well the managers, we need to link Performance Management with reward and benefit, training and development, career development and advancement systems, we need to clearly link and define the relationship between Performance Management and job analysis, and we need to do it on a regular basis. Also, we need to raise the awareness upon the damage of raters’ distortion.

9. What would you consider best practice in Performance Management?

Best practice in Performance Management could be 360 degrees evaluation, communication, employee involvement, a strong link Performance Management system and the strategy of the organization.

10. Which aspects of Performance Management do you think that should be emphasized during educational programs?

During educational programs we need to emphasize the link between Performance Management and strategic management, so in education you need to bring more from the strategic management literature and studies into Performance Management to give it this strategic aspect. We need as well to link Performance Management and different Human Resources management courses, I mean training and development, employee relations, benefits and rewards, retention management, strategic human resource management. Also, we need to link Performance Management with operation research and management control operations, Performance Management and risk management, Performance Management and total quality management. So we can bring Performance Management into different disciplines and educational programs.

11. What do you think are the limits in order to achieve high levels of proficiency in Performance Management among practitioners?

The lack of knowledge, lack of training, lack of tools for evaluating employees’ performance and the lack of understanding of the links between Performance Management and the strategy of the organization. Those are some of the barriers, some of the challenges for practitioners and professionals. You can for example find line managers, junior managers or even senior managers who know nothing about Performance Management, they are not trained, they haven’t received professional training on Performance Management.

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

The main aspects of Performance Management: strategic and general considerations, application and implementation, communication, involvement and engagement, performance review and performance renewal and re-contracting.

13. We are developing a database of Performance Management subjects and degrees. Which are the subjects and degrees that you have come across and at which university?

I came across for example a Masters in Operational Research and Performance Management at Aston Business School in the United Kingdom, I came across programs about managing organizational performance, management control and business performance, risk management and business performance, Performance Management and workplace training, I came across Masters in Managing Organizational Performance and Masters in Total Quality and Performance Management.

In the end, I would like to emphasize the importance of Performance Management, I would like to raise some concerns about the lack of trust in Performance Management and the perception of Performance Management as cost and time consuming and including a lot of administration. However, if organizations are seeking growth and competitiveness over the long run they cannot do it without having a well-established, a systematic and ongoing Performance Management system linked to the strategy of the organization and without linking employees’ individual performance to the strategy of the organization. I cannot see a competitive organization without a Performance Management system, I cannot see an HR department without Performance Management, I cannot see managers without education and awareness about Performance Management, I cannot see an organization functioning without Performance Management system, I cannot see motivated, loyal, satisfied, highly productive employees without a clear Performance Management system linked to rewards and benefits, training and development within the organization. So all in all, Performance Management is at the heart and at the center of any organization’s operations and activities.

For more interviews with professionals from all over the world, access Performance Management in 2013

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