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Expert Interview – Ahmed Samy, Director Corporate Strategy Office at Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi

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Ahmed Samy Interview Performance Management in 2012For the report Performance Management in 2012, The KPI Institute conducted 12 semi-structured interviews with practitioners, academics and consultants, who offered rich insights into the state of Performance Management as a discipline.

Ahmed Samy, Director – Corporate Strategy Office at Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) was one of the practitioners that The KPI Institute interviewed.1. What does the term Performance Management mean to you?

What does performance management mean to me? I’ll try to answer your questions very briefly and simply, Performance Management to me is about understanding where the organization stands today and monitoring how it is going to achieve whatever future it sets for itself. So understanding is key but also embedding improvement opportunities so that you know that your trend is always moving up, there is no value in performance management if you stay where you are, so that’s what really Performance Management means to me and I’m referring to corporate performance management, I’m not just referring to individual performance management because there’s always a confusion between the two.

What I’m saying is that Individual Performance Management is only a component of Corporate Performance Management and without improving, then you’re not managing your performance because this is not just about recording, this is not just about monitoring, this is about managing the whole cycle and a very important part of that cycle is to assess where you are, review it and then make decisions to improve so without that piece, it’s not really Performance Management, it loses the value.

2. What drives interest in Performance Management?

Simple, straightforward answer to this question I wouldn’t expect any manager that wouldn’t want to know how is he performing and how his team’s performing and how his function is performing and how his piece of the business is performing. I wouldn’t see that as a manager, this is why I’m also convinced that Performance Management is a key skill in any management.

Now, organizations are basically a group of individuals who are working together for a certain cause so from the same perspective, the CEO of any organization I know, “how is he doing, how is he performing?” as an organization and as an individual the link is always there.

So the interest is there, if I would rephrase the question, I wouldn’t be asking the interest, because you wouldn’t find anyone saying, “I’m not interested in Performance Management, but you would see somebody saying, “I might see Performance Management as actually a core thing to do, or I might see it is as a preferred thing to do, more like must have vs. prefer to have, that’s where organizations lie within those key perspectives and as you move from preferred to have to must have you mature as an organization. So regardless of the size of the organization at the start, whether it’s a small business or a big corporation at the start, they wouldn’t focus much attention on Performance Management they usually tend to move towards operations, you know, on-the-ground stuff and forget about Performance Management or lose sight of it and as they mature they start learning that they been doing something but they haven’t really been monitoring what they were doing properly, they also could be some situations where they might see no improvement, just the status quo and this is going to start driving more interest and considering it as a core business. Pretty much anyone who’s involved in Performance Management knows that this is not something that has definitely been the case, this is especially due to the intervention of business intelligence and how big it is. I’ve been in so many conferences and spoken on topics related to Performance Management and one of the key initiatives that’s running in most organizations is business intelligence and how it’s supposed to furnish Performance Management and add value to the organization.

In a nutshell, the answers are always there however the adoption itself is what could be on a different level from one organization to the other depending on the maturity level.

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

Performance Management is the framework; it’s like the blood running in the veins of the organization. I’m not saying that it should sit within a certain function in isolation from the rest of the business that would definitely kill it at the start, it has to be embedded in the organization it has to be a centralized overview of what’s going on at the organizational level, but as you cascade it down to the division and to the individual level that sort of alignment has to always exist and in fact when I say Performance Management I would like to relate it very much to alignment across the organization and the functional level and at the individual level and alignment here is more than just a cascading of objectives into the organization, alignment is making sure that everyone is performing towards a certain goal, that’s really the heart of performance management.

As I mentioned there is a centralized element and there is a decentralized element because it has to live in the blood and soul of the business, but it’s definitely not an isolated function and it’s definitely not something that should be left fragmented across the organization.

4. What are the 2012 key trends in Performance Management from the perspective of your knowledge and experience in this field?

There are several of them. There is a structural trend where PM now gets to be recognized as a core central function, or the central piece of it is now being recognized and in fact the supporting structure like the RSM or the corporate strategy office or whatever you want to call it but at the end of the day now part of our business is PM even if you still call it quality, quality function. There is a trend moving towards from simply monitoring your performance laterally improving your performance and realized benefits, that’s on the operational level and the project level, so in a sense if I was to explore it in one piece, on a project level I mean if you look at the standard definition of a project, start to end, delivering a new product or service I have a strong feeling you get a standard definition because you have been running so many projects across all the industries and all the places that I worked in as a consultant, at the end of the day they get a nice deliverable, especially for corporate development sort of projects, they recognize the implementation, they put it on the shelf but they never use it, and they never actually realize the benefit of that product. Realizing the benefit of the product is actually the heart of PM, whatever that is. Whether it’s a service or a product or a project, whatever it is, realizing benefits is the heart of PM.

So moving from output delivery from a deliverable perspective towards benefits realization is another trend in PM.

5. What aspects of performance management should be explored more through research?

The question is not much different to the previous question, if I’m looking at trends, then I’m obviously those trends have to be reflected in research, especially in applied research and that’s the part of research that I honor. Anything else is only

So the concept behind benefits realization is here in its early stages and I have evidence for that. The concept of benefits management has to mature and sit within the organization. The concept of risk management, yes there has been so many different talks on risk management and how to align the risk management with the performance management with the strategic management all of them into one framework, that’s what David Norton and Robert Kaplan have been working on recently but again, I can see that there is always a confusion between enterprise risk management, project risk management the line is not clear and it should be the fact that there is even some research suggests the establishment of offices that are looking at just enterprise risk management but then we get into the dilemma of how many offices do we have to create so you don’t want to spread yourself too thin so, what I would say is benefits realization is definitely a concept that has to be studied for future research, risk management and aligning that to performance management, change management, again another key element and how does it relate back to project management and they all relate back to Performance Management.

Change Management is a gear on its own that holds everything else to one. It’s what I would call the heart and soul of the machine. One research that I’m working on with some of my colleagues is something called, “the Value Machine”. “The Value Machine” if you would graph it is basically five gears that are all working together in a machine structure. Performance Management is actually one of those gears, Change Management is another gear, Portfolio Management is another gear, Strategy Management and Knowledge Management. Each one of those elements has been studied to death. But linking each of those elements together into one cohesive machine, as it runs, it adds value to the organization is something that I haven’t seen much of and something I haven’t found much research on.

So from a larger perspective, linking all these elements together is definitely something that will add value from a micro perspective on Performance Management, as I said, risk and benefits.

6. Please provide some examples of organizations which you would recommend for study due to their approach to performance management and achievements?

I would definitely look at the best companies in the world. There are so many different rankings from the best companies in the world. When you talk about PM, there are so many different approaches to them. We can look at Balanced Scorecard. Some people even consider Six Sigma as a PM tool. There are so many different approaches that have been ranked and have been studied in terms of their adoption in large organizations and what sort of value each of one of them presents and there is a ranking for it and actually Balanced Scorecard would be number 1.

In terms of sectors, let me give you an example of the Abu Dhabi Government. It’s one of the very few governments in the world that has an inspiring vision to become one of the top five governments in the world. They have established a real state-of-the-art PM framework that is based on the Balanced Scorecard. They have got the hall of fame work on and Norton and Kaplan in terms of PM framework. But all of that aside, if you see things that are happening on the ground, it has nothing to do with the vision or the best framework that has been adopted. Why? Because of the culture here and that’s the key element of the induction of Performance Management. The culture does not support it. They have different opinions, they have different management styles, because they still haven’t aligned one single management style to the entire government and it’s still different from one entity to the other. Their adoption of PM changes and obviously they’re not getting the benefits from it. What I’m trying to say here is that you can have the best system in the world and get an award for it, however, when you see things on the ground, you will see that there is a huge disconnect. But again, top companies in the world are very much accomplished everywhere and I would assume by default that they have an approach to PM that needs to be studied.

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

Adoption of the framework, understanding which frameworks are adopted in the first place, the interventions between those like Balanced Scorecard, Six Sigma, the FQM, The Excellence Model, you see all these things, but you don’t see how you can make use of all these things together or how you would evaluate them and then determine which one is the best for you. So that’s a challenge in its own and to decide upon which performance management standard to adopt, another thing is the culture and how it supports Performance Management, leadership and the contribution of those tools to the success of any Performance Management framework that has been adopted.

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

There has been plenty of improvement on the tools, if you look at the history and the evolution of these things. There is always room for improvement, but in terms of the maturity, in terms of tools, in terms of software, in terms of frameworks, there are plenty of them. I think the real issue as well is with them is with the use and adoption. There are several works done on the design components of these tools so the use and the adoption has been researched and discussed in terms of improvement.

There is nothing specific I would say that I would say needs to be improved. You actually asked me about the use of performance tools and processes. If you’re talking about the actual use, I would talk about the behavioral side not the technical side. Some aspects especially when you get to the use stage, the behavioral side is actually more important than anything else. There needs to be a bit of behavioral research done on the top of my mind looking at different kinds of organizations and trying to specify them and see what sort of attributes they need to have in order to help them improve their adoption and use of the PM tools that will be one of the things that I would say is the major research element.

9. What would you consider best practice in performance management?

I’m very much more towards the Balanced Scorecard as a framework not just for Performance Management but for the entire cycle of strategy management and the latest execution premium process that was developed by Norton and Kaplan, I see that as one of the best practices in the market today. The latest version of the EFQM 2010 as an excellence model is considered best practices today especially if you plan to use a tool like the Balanced Scorecard you can get benefits from both without confusing people by giving the perception that you’re using two different tools for Performance Management. These I would consider as best practices in terms of the design.

In terms of adoption, there is no best practice. Making sure that there is some sort of a plan in place to guarantee that top leadership will always be supporting, committed to these sorts of relationships or any sort of performance management or any sort of corporate development project at all. And that’s a lot easier said than done but having a plan in place makes sure that that commitment is stable and consistent across the lifecycle of the project from development to use to improvement and assistance of the tool itself. There is no such best practice for that other than making sure that you follow the process and that you are very sensitive to the cultural aspects and the behaviors of the people that you’re dealing with.

A recent study that was conducted on PM adopted says it that 60% of these projects fail in general, if you’re going to have the top leadership committed to it, you can increase the chances of success. You can barely survive at 60% so just imagine if you don’t have that sort of support, so how can we handle that? That makes it a very critical issue to be looked at. Compared to other sort of processes in general, of course, the general statement, the external stakeholders have to be satisfied otherwise it doesn’t work, but I’m talking about specific stakeholders and I’m talking about a specific tool that relates to Performance Management, the alignment and the support, the commitment on an ongoing basis is key.

10. Which aspects of performance management should be emphasized during educational programs?

The behavioral aspect of adoption needs to be emphasized, the key success factors of how to adopt PM and what needs to be done to make sure you manage those success factors and that they’re always there. That needs to be emphasized. You want to graduate practitioners as much as possible, that’s the general problem across education in general. You definitely want to graduate practitioners in PM and there’s no way that this can happen unless they are very much into the reality.

Don’t just rely on the fact that when they graduate, they will work and they will find out about these things themselves or they will learn it from something else. Teach them the theory from practice. A lot of graduates when they come out into the real world, they’re preparing to balance and reduce the margin between the expectations and the real world expectations.

11. What are the barriers to achieving higher levels of proficiency in performance management among practitioners?

The more you do it, the more you get better at it. You also have to realize that yes, if you are working as a consultant, then yes you can do it in many places. If you do it as an internal consultant, then you get the benefit of seeing the whole cycle, not just the design elements of it but also the use of it, and also how the system is used.

So the barriers will definitely depend on the kind of job that you’re doing. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t see training, education and knowledge as a barrier because that is there, not are you going to train in courses or something like that, but it’s also in terms of self-development.

The thing with any Performance Management specialist or expert or consultant or whatever is that he needs to have very good communication skills. He needs to be able to communicate and communicate and communicate. He needs to be able to listen, he needs to have that soft side he needs to be able to be patient, very patient, he needs to be able to create a dialogue. All the things that I am saying here are on the soft side but that’s it that what it is. The tools, the systems the processes they’re all in the books, they’re there. The major barrier that you will always have is that you need to be a very interactive, proactive person. We all know that there are so many people who say that you are born like this or not. I oppose that, I see that you can always develop that side of yourself, that soft side of yourself. That’s the key barrier that I see specifically for PM for professionals.

12. What Performance Management question would you like to have answered?

I would relate it back to the research question that I am currently working on here: how does Performance Management fit in the bigger picture? There are other players, there are other gears; the alignment of these has to be in place. There is no doubt that each one of those elements has their own value but it’s how you find the synergy between all those for even better value.

I understand that this study is very much focused on Performance Management but I also would definitely suggest that in the future, you or any other person who is interested in Performance Management research would into the bigger picture and how Performance Management fits into the bigger picture. That’s the one thing that I would say would be a very beneficial exercise.

13. Which were the recent achievements in generating value from performance management in your organization?

It’s a long term process I cannot say that the organization has finished with its achievements, even though the PM team is convinced that the decisions and the strategy have been cascaded down to the individual level. They all now know what the strategy is all about but there was a huge lapse in terms of the awareness amongst entities in the organization. All these things happen but in terms of the adoption and the use this is now the time that we are looking at that and I can tell you now that we had many challenges, especially since we had a recent change in management. Different management styles are key to handle and you always have to present the case for PM and the value of it and that is not just for PM. It’s for the whole strategy management framework. So there are achievements in terms of designing, but in terms of the use and the adoption, they are in the process of doing that.

For more interviews of practitioners, academics and consultants we kindly invite you to read Performance Management in 2012.

Coming soon – Performance Management in 2013.

Image Source: Performance Management in 2012

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