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Expert Interview: Rick Edgeman, Professor of Sustainability & Performance at Aarhus University, Denmark


Rick-EdgemanThe KPI Institute’s Performance Management in 2014 report is built on the belief that a balanced approach in such research endeavours can only be achieved by triangulating the opinions of practitioners, academics and consultants alike. In 2014, Rick Edgeman, Professor of Sustainability & Performance at Aarhus University, Denmark was one of the academics who offered us rich insights into performance related research and trends.

“Success is driven by performance and most people are inherently aware of that.”

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

The term is highly descriptive. Its meaning is a double one in that it means both “management of performance” and “management by performance”. The differences are relatively subtle. In the first case, we have the implication that performance is guided by management and corresponding measures. In the second instance, we see that performance provides both feedback and foresight, so that it is able to inform management.

2. What drives interest in Performance Management?

I believe that, fundamentally, individuals and organizations alike deeply desire to succeed. It is a measure of validation. More than validation, however, success is driven by performance and most people are inherently aware of that. What performance management enables is management by fact, rather than purely by intuition: Facts + Feelings > Feelings only.

An obvious additional point is that individuals and organizations alike are pressured to succeed. Superior performance, at least in the right areas, is almost synonymous with success. Therefore, performance is managed and measured as a way of striving to be successful.

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

These are – or at least should be – intricately and integrally related. When these are not aligned, the simple mathematical, managerial and operational truth is that organizational performance is not optimized. The greater the misalignment, the poorer the overall performance.

4. What are the 2014 key trends in Performance Management from your point of view?

I believe the key trend is increasing emphasis on sustainability across all triple bottom line dimensions: economic performance, social impact and environmental performance.

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

This is consistent with my answer to the prior question. Triple bottom line performance and impact can be measured, whether it is poor or exceptional. The idea, however, is to produce the performance, and not simply observe it. This means that there is a stream: strategy is deployed through people, processes, partnerships and policies that produce performance and impact. This implies that the strategy should be triple top line in nature, with attention to being wise when it comes to the financial dimension, equitable in what the social matter is concerned and sensitive with environmental issues, so that triple bottom line performance is ultimately economically sound, socially and ecologically responsible, with the latter translating to a reduced carbon footprint. This implies that strategy performance related, in particular, to social equity and environmental sensitivity is in need of increased research attention. Poor strategy = poor performance and impact.

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

I believe that Novozymes, Novo Nordisk, and Maersk Line are all exceptional. Similarly SAP and SAS (the US software firm based in Cary, North Carolina).

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

I believe the biggest challenges relate to Big Data – how to deal with it, how to extract intelligence from it. Connected to Big Data is the struggle to be increasingly relevant in “real” or “right” time. Further, better connecting sustainability concerns is critical.

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

Real-time responsiveness and connection to sustainability performance and impact.

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

Meaningful use of the models and criteria such as those behind, e.g., the US Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or the European Quality Award.

Similarly, meaningful use of the models, measures or criteria that support environmental and social performance and impact. Included among these are the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), ISO 26000 Social Responsibility Standard, ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN Global Compact.

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

Cyber security. The growing number of national security and enterprise threats suggests that enterprise performance management systems can be compromised. Performance management systems often contain proprietary information that may strongly relate to competitive advantage, and their compromise has devastating potential.

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

Dealing with truly massive amounts of data (Big Data) quickly enough. Dealing with the additional complexity added by pressure to perform in a broader array of areas – especially sustainability related ones.

12. If you are to name, in a few words, the main aspects governing Performance Management today, what would they be?
  • Pressure to perform economically (from investors, boards of directors, and shareholders);
  • Pressure to contribute to the societal fabric (from customers and citizens);
  • Pressure to perform environmentally (from abundant scientific evidence, governmental compliance; and varied stakeholders).

These inform and influence the nature of performance management, of the KPIs that are used, and the ways in which information is gathered, measured, secured and used.

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

In my opinion, the value of implementing this trend in one’s own life depends greatly on personal objectives. I think it is simple to become a slave to such things. Though I set goals for myself, my overall belief is that one’s time outside work is theirs alone to manage – or mismanage.

14. Are you using any kind of personal performance measurement tools? If yes, please describe how this has influenced your life.

I do not use personal performance tools. What I do is not so very different however. I form time-bound goals that range from very general to highly specific and associate KPIs with each goal. I am disciplined about monitoring progress. As an academic, I usually measure my success in a few ways, with the way depending on the goal – by the success of my students, by facilitating the success of my colleagues, by publications being accepted or by learning something that is highly integrative.

15. Do you have any tips for successfully managing one’s work-life balance? What are your thoughts?

I many not be the best person to respond to a question on work-life balance since others might question whether I have a good balance. I am in many ways the classic “workaholic”, who commits to more than I should.

A light work-week for me will have about 65 hours packed in. I do take a break of about five minutes per hour to refocus. During that time, I am likely reading something completely unrelated to my work – usually something about archeology, history or science and sometimes sports. In that way, I am able to make good use of the other 55 minutes. I typically have a handful of windows / documents open at any given time so that I can focus for 15 minutes, rotate to another task and so on. This combination keeps me “entertained and productive” at the same time.

I try to identify topics about which I know little, but would like to know more – whether those topics are directly related to my work or not. Some recent examples include cyber security, smart water technology, energy technology and issues related to climate change and social strain.

My day has a routine to it – I arise early and I am working early. I prefer to schedule early morning meetings, as I have the most energy and focus. I rarely eat breakfast and less often eat lunch, but then eat too much for dinner – poor habits according to most people.

So – how do I relax, so that work will not become entirely dominant?

Thankfully, we have laptop and notebook computers these days, and I will admit that at night I may be working on my laptop while also watching a movie or television series with my family. My productivity is probably running at only about 50%, but I do have time with my family. We go to movies often and that is something we all enjoy. I travel significantly and always go with the attitude that I may never return – so that I see and do as much as I can wherever I am – often being out the door by 6:30am or 7am and not back to the hotel until after 10pm. This latter approach means that I “do my homework” prior to any given trip. I try to make sure that I have some larger event or trip roughly every six to eight weeks – a trip, just getting away – “away” usually has a work element, but at the same time something enjoyable as well. Going out to a movie about once per month is a habit, going into the city just to enjoy a Saturday or Sunday is another once per month plan.

What I lack is work-life balance on any given day. What I do have is a balance that makes me happy over longer periods of six to eight weeks at a time. I do this by consciously giving myself something to look forward to, either as a reward for work completed, or as a break from the effort.

While I enjoy my life and work, I would not necessarily recommend it to everyone.

16. We are developing a database of Performance Management subjects and degrees. Which are the subjects/degrees you have come across and at which university? (i.e. subjects or degrees such as the Masters in Managing Organizational Performance)
  • Quality Management;
  • Business & Performance Excellence (e.g. international quality award models, criteria, and measures such as those of the European Foundation for Quality Management or America’s Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award are excellent examples);
  • Statistical Methods – many and varied;
  • Business Intelligence / Business Analytics;
  • Data Mining;
  • Data Science;
  • Change Management;
  • Project Management;
  • Cyber Security.

Johns Hopkins University offers a “Data Science”, program available essentially free via completion of nine coordinated MOOCs (massive open online courses). These include the statistical methods courses cited above.

  • Data Mining, along with Business Intelligence / Business Analytics can be found at many universities. Included among these are Denver University (USA), Aarhus University (Denmark).
  • Quality Management and related areas can also be found at many universities: National University of Singapore (within the Industrial & Systems Engineering Department); Chalmers University (Sweden); and Uppsala University (Sweden – within Industrial Engineering and Management).
  • Cyber Security can be found within, e.g., Brandeis University (USA).
  • Project Management at – as I recall – either American University or George Washington University, both in Washington, DC.
  • Change Management is critical, and it can be seen in a number of programs of various sorts.
  For more interviews with specialists in the field, peruse through our report Performance Management in 2014! Should you be interested in having your interview featured in one of our publications, contact us at [email protected]!
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