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Expert Interview – Alan Meekings, Landmark Consulting, United Kingdom


Alan Meekings 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 a detailed image on the state of Performance Management as a discipline.

Alan Meekings, Founding Director of Landmark Consulting, United Kingdom was one of the consultants that The KPI Institute interviewed.

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

We tend to see performance measurement management and I think that is to distinguish from the term performance management which is often used to imply the appraisal development term of individuals and is more what human resource professionals would need when they say performance management. They are looking at individual performance management recognition reward and so on. But I feel that by adding the term measurement, we overly focus on metrics rather than the performance information in the round. So I also see two parallel dimensions here. One you might call the strategic execution and operational excellent to be saying. But alongside that, and equally important, is the ongoing development of the organization and continual improvement. And I like the term organizational performance management because it seems to be that sweeps up both those complementary perspectives. So if you thought the kind of execution and operational excellence side of saying what we said we are going to do in the direction we are going. The other side of it is how we are going to continually develop the organizations strategically and operationally and drive continual improvement in not only how the work gets done but how the organization is managed.

2. What drives interest in Performance Management?

In the public sector, certainly looking at what has happened at UK over the past decade or so, focus has been increasing on outcomes of impacts of the public services. And that has caused significant attention to be paid within the public sector to issues of organization performance management. You can go down a siding and say I think a lot of matters being badly done and arbitrary numerical target setting was given free reign in UK. But it certainly has focused on the issue of organizational performance management. In the commercial sector, you have got what Dr. Deming described as “Survival is not compulsory” in a competitive market. You have the sort of ongoing need to keep up with changes and levels of competition within your own sector. But if those are the two drivers which I see, the other factor is the impact of the section.

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

There is an idea called “performance architecture” answering the question: who at what level or cross what functions and so on individually or as a team; who needs to look at what performance information; why and what decisions are they expected to take; when and how frequently (is this a daily process or weekly process) and how is performance planning going to be brought to life in practice; how are the different levels in an organization going to be end functions or going to be connected by design; what is important and the last thing that ever gets attention is how is this information going to be used in practice. And it comes back to my point that it starts from use it’s completely different.

Then you pull through the performance intervention you need is a remarkable but understandable logical fact that if you start by thinking answering the question of performance architecture question. You need to come together to look at what, when, why and how. If you know that, you can just roll out that performance architecture I say rather simplistically because there are all sorts of questions about where do you start. You start at the bottom level in which case senior managers are not involved, or you start at their level then there is no terms of fast-moving operational data for them to take a decision, or you start at the middle level but conceptually when you answer that question you can roll that out.

Then, because you are talking about use, if the first measures you come up with don’t provide the information that is needed for better decision making faster, then you change the measures. It’s completely different from the way that metrics are normally sort of bolted on top of the organization. And they don’t take root and they don’t get changed because they are not used in decision making. Start with the decision-making process and then you create self-correcting metrics and gets home because it’s used. So I see it is really a long way of answering the question about the importance of thinking through an architecture that covers the whole organizational, departmental, or business unit level all the way down to frontline staff, teams and their leaders or supervisors.

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

I made the point that I think an assessment to the literature, the account, the number of papers. They are going to be mostly on frameworks, metrics, and things like that and not on use. So I think even today within the academic community, looking the papers who written, I see them focusing on things like risk management which is very interesting and very important topic.

You might even add to that list Prof. Tom Davenport’s phrase “Competing on Analytics”. So people are now thinking we can develop an analytical capability and use that for a competitive advantage. Not many of them do it but Tom Davenport’s whole book focusing on that. I think that’s gaining attention but I still believe that we should be a directing research towards what I call Connected Performance. And that has four elements. I have mentioned the first which is Performance Architecture.

Imaging four interlocking bubbles Connected Performance Architecture in the top, the next one is what I call “Performance Exploration”, that is everything to do with both the visual presentation and intelligent interpretation of data, but also the ability for people to explore their performance information to get actionable insights. How do you get actionable insights out of your data and that doesn’t necessarily mean having lots of business analysis’s using software tools like Business Objects and Cognos or whatever. The principle now and fortunately technology enables this increasingly, is that everyone should be able to explore their data at the speed of thought.

So if you are in a performance planning section and you have some issue, maybe if you are running a website you are concerned about your conversion rate from taking visitors to the site and having them end up purchasing something and so on. If you worry about an issue like that, the ability to say which particular products are we worried about, what time of year, etc. Individuals and managers should ideally be able to explore the performance data in the way the same way we use Google to explore the worldwide web. And that perspective, again I don’t see many people writing about it, to me is profoundly important. No use having a wonderful performance architecture if you can’t get any insights on which to take decisions.

If we go to the left of the horizontal plate, I call “performance planning”. Performance planning doesn’t just happen. A position I worked on, we had to provide some form of coaching for people to plan performance and that covers aspects of preparing in advance for performance planning section. As well as decision making within that context, and follow up afterwards. For example, I always talk about three uses of performance information. One is to explore performance; two is to monitor performance. Or perhaps monitor first, because you do need to be able to keep your finger on the pulse. You need to be able to explore for actionable insights. The third thing that I call is show and that’s always the most difficult to get clients to understand.

But if you make a decision, you should have a sense of what you might call the “the flash in the bang time”. When are we going to see the impact of that decision or that might be a substantial redesign of part of our website which might take three months. So you should make a note in three months’ time saying we will come back and re-visit that, and see if it had the impact that we envisaged because that’s how you create really powerful learning. So there is a lot to talk about under the performance planning heading.

My final bubble down the bottom I call “Performance Culture”. It is easy to see there is no point in having an elegant performance architecture if nothing gets done. And that shouldn’t get people to move out of analysis paralysis into taking action and learning from the impact. But there are whole load of cultural things around that that almost no one’s writing about. I understand from an academic perspective it’s quite difficult to get inside the organization and see how things are done. But Prof. Mike Bourne at CBP has a very good session he often runs where he talks about five seasons for measuring, which are: to establish position, to communicate direction, to influence behavior, to stimulate action and to facilitate learning. What interesting to do is under that heading, under each of those five headings, talk about the behavior aspects. What should leaders of performance planning be doing and not doing to encourage that to work. If I give you an example establish position what should you do? You should ensure that performance is seen and assessed from genuinely systemic perspective. What should you not do shoot the messenger I have got a number of points like that, and I think that it is in this area of use but within use not just the rational things but the emotional political aspects in performance management need to be brought into sharper focus if you want to improve practice to take root and blossom.

So slightly link to that, I tend to think three important component parts. One is leadership and there is a significant body of knowledge on leadership we recognize within organizations if you look at something like the British companies spend a lot of times to training in leadership. And it makes a significant difference. All commercial organizations or public sector tend to assume that people know how to lead because they promoted. So that’s a component part. The second thing is what’s the purpose of the organization? Is it profoundly customer focus for the benefit of our citizens or customers and that’s a topic how do you get the voice of the customer integrated and linked from grass roots level to the boardroom. Terry Leahy of Tesco fame has a saying, “you have got to get a line of sight of the customer throughout the organization particularly at senior level”. The third thing is what I would call fix the system and my method I happen to call it Connected Performance. It is almost like this is going to hone the machine that gets things done and drive continuing improvement. And I think it would be helpful for the literature to move into these other three complementary areas as well.

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

Back to the triangle that I was drawing, you have got a traditional organization senior executives, frontline staff and team leaders. This is how you have got varies levels of the boardroom to the frontline. You have varies functions and that’s what I would call how the work gets done. The flow of work in management information controls how the work gets done. This is the missing perspective that management process in organizations and I think I go up to the point of saying there is a very good blogger called John Childers who writes about leadership processes. I’m trying to think about who else specifically identifies improving the management processes. People go off on leadership courses and stuff like that and it is almost like that you can’t do things in the other two areas but this idea that you can systematically improve the management process in organizations is not well understood at the moment. I see that as the next big area of breakthrough because we have done Japanese quality improvement, we have done lean thinking and so on. And that has been hugely helpful.

We’ve even done business process re-engineering. To me that’s all it’s really focused on changing how the work gets done. What we need to do now is to say what are the tools and techniques, approaches, methods and so on that we can use deliberately to improve the way organizations are managed. Because once people get it, they can’t go back. It’s profoundly powerful. The clients I worked with over the past three years or so as a management consultant, the basis of continual improvement is that they understand that we have to be working on the management process as well as how the work gets done.

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

The most complete management station of Connected Performance calls That’s the world’s largest price comparison website based in the UK. So you are thinking about buying, let’s say, car insurance, home insurance, pet insurance, mortgages, savings, investments, package holidays and flights, they have about 75 channels or groups of products or services that they can help you identify the features and compare prices. And there will be only a price comparison website for services like that listed on the Stock Exchange. It’s in the top 100 in the UK on the London Stock Exchange. If I say the name Bernard Marr who is an academic researcher in this field, he used to work for the business performance in Cranfield University. He is encouraging me to write a case study on money supermarket, so later this year I aim to do that.

Another firm that is interesting is Belron, our world’s largest and fastest-growing vehicle glass repair and replacement company. And they have had very significant success through a combination of three things to manage performance. One they would call “total net conversions”. That’s the idea that if a motorist are just crack my windscreen, how do we make sure that we capture that work and go and deliver a satisfaction job and get paid for it? That’s conversion in their terms. They are one of the leading hall of fame clients of net promoted score. There was a net promoter conference earlier this month and they were the first client to speak and they told a really interesting story of how they have been able to grow customer delight through the application of that promoted score. Whether you think the promoted score is a good idea or bad idea is a very interesting story.

And the third component is what they would call operational excellence. So that doesn’t include productivity, the aspects of delivery meeting promises. And why that they have been able to manage that at company level (they are now in 34 countries) but also at branch level is I think very interesting.

The other case study needs to be written, is that the Landmark Consulting have worked with six out of the twelve ambulance services in England and Wales implementing exactly the same software and management process. But because they are all the same, they don’t compete with each other; it’s possible to see the differences. Because you can image every ambulance service has areas within the regions and what we are rolling out is exactly the same software and management process that across six organizations, you can really start to see what works and what doesn’t work. And I think that is the most interesting example. It’s unique. I’m not aware that anything like that has happened. Now you might go and work for an oil company and then can you work for another oil company? I mean they are certainly not going to share information. But the ambulance systems don’t compete with each other, so they are willing to trade experience. And we use Prof. Andy Neely to do some past-implementation reviews to get a sense of what worked and what hasn’t worked in each of those areas. I think that’s worth exploring.

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

I have got a fishbone diagram which says typical causes of failure and has varies aspects. There is a major bone called “Don’t want to improve”, one called “Complacent”, “Don’t understand it”, “Don’t agree with it”, “Don’t believe it will be helpful” etc. I have developed this framework over the years when brought into teach for example MBA courses. I have often split the audience into groups and say go away and think about from your experience in your organizations with whom you have worked, why do performance measurement and management initiatives typically either fail or fail to deliver the benefits that were expected.

Having over the years sort of running lots of those sessions, I have got a fairly comprehensive listing now. And I grouped them into generically four areas to do with 1), motivation: why would be organizations want to go through these; 2), Mobilization and communication: how do you get people on board; how do you explain to them what’s coming and how they get involved; 3), Design and Implementation; 4), Support and coaching. By looking at the common reasons of failure, the other side of the coin is to turn that round and say how we would address all of those risks, so as to deliver a successful implementation approach. And comes back to the point that I’m making earlier, that I think at the moment, research in this area is understandably but overly focus on frameworks and measures and stuff like that, and not on implementation. And I think implementation is the biggest single challenge.

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

A greater awareness to the framework that I call Connected Performance would be good. That’s being my area of focus for the past 23 years.

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

I think the answer is the same as Question 8, the best practice in performance management is Connected Performance because that covers everything.

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

I think the important thing to get across in education is the principle of start with the use. Who’s come together to look at what information, why, when and how. How is performance information to be used to improve decision making to connect levels of business to improve the optimization of the working across areas functions. Most large organizations are functional silos. They are managed as such. You might talk about having a leadership team, but in practice it tends to be a chief executive and coming together of functional heads who are almost encouraged or incentivized to optimize their own little bit of the business. And John Childers again writes well on this topic: how do you actually create a leadership team who is managing the business systemically. So I do think that we should be talking more people about the use of performance information, rather than teaching them measurement frameworks such as how to design a good measure that sort of thing.

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

I think the barrier is how to see what good looks like. Because we tend to manage organizations by copying what we have seen and looking at what leaders do. It’s enlarging a process of copying, and it’s in this particular area, it’s quite difficult to see the management process work. I mean you can go on a factory tour, and you can see how JUST-IN-TIME be made to work. What’s quite difficult is to understand the mindset that allows that thinking to take route. The Toyota production system, you can go and see the factory, but can you see the mindset? I think it’s almost like with a computer, you don’t see the operating system, you see the applications. I see the principle barrier here is being how you really understand what good looks like in terms of improving the management process. I don’t have an answer to it but I think that’s the biggest challenge as I see it. Because if you don’t know what good looks like, you are kind of perpetuating what you last saw really.

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

I think that I would like to recognize leadership and management processes, understand that it is possible to redesign and improve the process in organizations and recognize the essential keys to success in implementation. That would be what I see ideally future research and attention going within the organizational performance management community.

13. As a consultant, what are the most common issues that your customers raised related to Performance Management?

The normal starting point is they feel that they are drowning their data, not necessarily measuring the right things. Have excessive performance reports no one bothers to look at and just want someone to come in and improve their KPIs of reporting. Of course, when they talk to me, I say that just doesn’t matter. We should start by saying we need come together to look at what, when, why and how. One client said to me that now things are so obvious. That is one of the two reasons why they would contact somebody like me who has a reputation of working in this field as consultant.

The second one, I would almost express it as some coming for advices on the tools they should be using. They have read about these competing on analytical stuff. They have got software providers all battering them to buy the new analytical tools, enterprise-wide software implementation. So they ask about should they select SPSS, BISuite or should we go with Cognos. And of course, they get the same answer from me as we are not going to address your tools until we work out we need to come together to look at what, when, why and how. Then we understand that you will know what tool you need.

For example, for money supermarket, we started out with what I would call a discovery face to understand the current management process, challenges, opportunities and so on and designer projects. And actually built a business case for a specific initiative which they call their term was “leading with insight”. And I like that phrase. What we implemented was what I call Connected Performance. That’s my kind of conceptual underpinning. I really like the phrase leading with insight. We discovered these three missing perspectives; they didn’t really have a clear understanding of the voice of customer. Although they are one of the largest website in Europe, they certainly spent more on Google than anyone else in Europe, so they are Google’s largest customer. At the time, there were 622 developers designing the website so it’s a big organization in terms of a web-based business. But all they did was do a bit of sort of focus group testing of new ideas, eye-tracking studies and things like that. They didn’t do any site exit surveys, post-transaction surveys. They didn’t do any comparative mystery shopping of the consumers. They didn’t have a long line research panel; we set up a long line research panel for them. They have never surveyed their providers. That’s the customers who pay for leads directed. So we put in place a program of customer insight activities to do just that. But that was designed into the project design. They also didn’t have a handle on their cost of sale.

And the third was the missing perspective on the providers how they would seen by. The providers compare to other comparative price comparison websites. So we designed their program which actually had 13 screens of activities; some of the activities have really exciting names like report clean up and self service; glossary and definitions. Each of those work screens had a charter saying what it was called, what the purpose of the work screen was; what the deliverables were; time resources working on a time scale and a proper program of management. If you approach the task that way, we actually said we would, at the end of the screen activity, which will be called “core BI capability”. We would access the need for an updated suite of analytical tools. When we did the work we concluded that the price that they have been quoted for that was a million pounds, they didn’t need to spend it. They are now at the position about 18 months on where they are again looking at their tools. If somebody comes in and say, make some recommendation on tools for us Alan, I just go back to the fundamental question asking what you are going to use this information. There is no point on spending money on it. I just think the software providers don’t do their customers a service by installing expensive tools without understanding what information you are expected to pull from it and why. I think that seems to be the two most common presenting issues. I not yet had anyone, any chief executive come up to me and say: Alan, I want you to improve my management processes; I want you to make performance explicit and widely visible. They don’t say it.

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

Coming soon – Performance Management in 2013.

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