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Expert Interview – Luana Patacconi, Organisational Development Manager, European Space Agency, Netherlands

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Luana PatacconiFor the report Performance Management in 2013, The KPI Institute conducted 20 semi-structured interviews with practitioners, academics and consultants from 18 countries, who offered a detailed image on the state of Performance Management as a discipline.

Luana Patacconi, Organisational Development Manager at the European Space Agency, Netherlands, was one of the practitioners that The KPI Institute interviewed.

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

I think that Performance Management is becoming an area of emerging interest, in particular considering the economic situation of the contributors which has an impact in terms of funds availability and requires a more and more careful management.

Performance Management is a known discipline in our organization. It has been introduced by identifying some indicators to provide our contributors with information related to the strategic achievements of our Agency.

The challenge that I still see for Performance Management to exploit all its potentials is the culture change: from being perceived as a methodological exercise/tool for judgment to being seen as a practical tool for management being part of the daily life by providing a better awareness, improving communication and supporting decisions.

2. What drives interest in Performance Management?

The Agency has made in the past years quite a progress in formalising the internal processes and related responsibility. Setting up Performance Management is a natural step in order to increase process efficiency and accountability. In this respect, we are proposing to introduce more extensively Performance Management within our organization by starting from corporate functions such as Procurement, where the process is spread out among the entire organization. The aim is to provide the KPI Owners with some practical information and tools (scorecards and dashboards) to support and enhance management decision making and alignment with strategy.

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

A consistent Performance Management framework ensures that once the strategic objectives are defined they are cascaded to the departmental and individual levels. In such a framework, the communication is enhanced and people’s behaviour at the various levels of the organization are aligned with the strategy. The implementation of a framework like this is a key ingredient for a successful organization.

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

Performance Management is a discipline that is becoming more and more mature. It is about providing concrete tools to measure progress, achieve results and to be successful. The research activities in this field, like yours, further support the development, concrete application and value added of such a discipline.

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

Navigating your resources, we paid attention to the SMART objectives definition. The objective definition itself is not an easy task and it becomes even more difficult when we come to define an objective with the same standard terminology and understanding and the KPIs and targets have to be set. That would be an area to be more explored and documented in order to provide more concrete examples to users who face the challenge of implementing this new discipline for the first time.

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

In terms of government and international organizations, I think that there are lots of opportunities to grow. In the public sector, the concept of performance is most of the times associated with the concept of judgment. I’ve seen several government organisations, when I was working in consulting, who had issues with measurement, feeling to perform an unique activity difficult to be assessed. To overcome this culture of uniqueness, it might be interesting to see whether there are some good practices that can be shown as an example, providing a good insight for the remaining organisations.

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

I see data gathering as one of the main challenges, along with the clear definition of responsibilities about a KPI.

To be more specific, with regards to the data gathering, once we define what we need to measure, the challenge that we immediately face is the one of not having the underlying data available/ready. When this happens, the lead time to concretely activate the KPI might become long and a lack of interest might appear, as Performance Management might be perceived as an activity which is more methodological than practical. In this case, our approach is trying to identify among all the KPIs that emerge a few that eventually can be immediately activated as a quick win, always keeping in mind what is relevant to measure and not what is simply available

The second challenge that I see is the KPIs’ responsibilities definition, especially for those corporate processes that are spread out throughout the overall organization. This challenge can be overcome by clearly defining which part of the KPIs is responsibility of whom among the overall process in order to achieve the final result, and also to engage a larger and wider group of stakeholders to focus on the common expected outcome.

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

The target setting process is not an easy one, especially when establishing new KPIs. It would be useful to have more concrete examples of target setting that overcomes the typical issues connected with it.

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

For any organizations, I would consider a best practice having all the top executives on board, engaged, and being the ones sponsoring such a culture. This would make much easier for the overall organization to accept the model as a normal modus operandi, and therefore it would allow a smoother practical introduction of the tools into the daily working life.

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

I think it would be interesting to explore more the KPI balancing, used to avoid that KPIs are set by looking only at one component, without considering the overall picture. This risk is there when setting KPIs, especially at the operational level. There might be too much focus on a specific aspect bringing benefits only to one organizational unit without enough balance of the different needs to achieve the final outcome. Therefore, more insight about the balancing techniques in practice and more examples of how to balance the possible KPIs in different corporate areas like Procurement, Finance or HR would be an asset.

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

Well, the limit that I see is the limit that the organizational context might set to the implementation of the full Performance Management discipline and approach and this comes from the maturity knowledge within the organisation. Therefore, creating a common ground by promoting awareness sessions to have a common language and understanding is in my view a pre-requisite to the introduction of such a discipline.

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

I would say: top management involvement and sponsorship, formal recognition of this function within the organization, structured approach and methodology in place to govern the overall Performance Management framework and culture development initiatives to boost the real adoption of such a discipline.

13. Which are the recent achievements in generating value as a result of Performance Management in your organization?

I consider a first important achievement the interest and attention we are receiving by Management and the availability to engage themselves in conducting a first KPI selection workshop within one of our corporate functions.

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

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Government of Canada: Plans and priorities for 2014 – 2015
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