| Performance Shading | the art of self-serving KPIs

KPIs(key performance indicators) in the broader context of the enterprise and in providing color to ones output are a great tool. Every major corporation around the globe has some form of KPIs, they have been around for centuries in one form or an other. The age old saying, “you can’t improve it, if you cant measure it” resonates with pretty much every one. So if we have established that performance management/ KPIs etc are good for business, then what’s the issue?

That in it self is the issue, namely the blind or sole reliance on KPIs , metrics, performance score cards without understanding the nuances of measurement it self. Here’s an interesting story that revolves around a decade of interacting with mid-to-senior level executives, who are potentially 2 degrees removed from the operative management teams of large scale enterprises that rely on these systems. This crowd to me, are in the business of executing busy work, work that is being created to measure only the things they feel are worthy of measurement, as those are the only things they can influence towards positive improvement.

So there are essentially entire groups of people, within enterprises we know and cherish around us, that essentially have people employed for the sole purpose of doing busy work; then representing it as a key input to the over all process of the organization and generating miles of score cards and performance charts around their accomplishments. At the risk of sounding inept or inefficient, leaders don’t cross question this type of output.

In my experience any one who takes more than four sentences to describe what they do and how it impacts the bottom line, basically has no input to the bottom line. Either their loyalty/perseverance or tenure has allowed them to essentially build a fort around them selves and lock themselves in. With only them knowing what they do all the time whilst creating the illusion of commitment and high-end performance.

As you peel the onion you find out, that all there is to this story is much the same, that it has not changed over the course of time, but these “performance shaders” have become so skilled at maneuvering the corporate culture & the organizational dynamics and have almost developed an instinct to shade reality by hiding behind meaningless numbers, charts and score cards. That is a susbtantial problem.

Elsewhere in the civilized business world, this sort of inefficiency is eventually caught and a course correction ensured. The reason why I am almost spell bound by incompetence around the enterprises I see domestically is two fold. Performance management is a skill, like a sous chef that needs practice, training and years of learning to master. But in our enterprises a course in “TQM”, “Franklin Covey-Modules” , “presentation skills”, “time management” etc all count towards the holy grail of a consummate HR/learning management professional. We have not equipped our functional leaders within the talent management space to either have the breadth or depth of exposure required to manage, grow and groom talent. At best we follow archaic systems. The CEOs and leaders of the organizations go to impressive foreign courses, they attend executive work shops, but two tiers below them the idea of learning and development revolves around buying software to execute a learning management or a performance management system- at best.

Secondly we have a culture of life time employment. Perhaps some of our societal needs govern that, but to be globally competitive we have to draw fresh blood into the system. Instead, we bring in fresh blood, which gets tainted an old color by the old guard that is still calling the shots. The old guard has to be counseled out of these enterprises. An enterprise by definition is not a charity, if that is the reason for employing some of these folks, then enterprises should do the next best and noble thing and setup charitable alternate workforce development opportunities much like the “many faces of the an organization whose ex-employees proudly display the coveted (R) in front of their names post retirement and go on to pretty well for them selves”.

The other cultural norm is the “scarcity” of the CEO/executive leadership and their interaction across the organization. This creates a temperature difference, much like on your windshield on a humid evening, you may perceive to imagine what the environment outside looks like even with the mist on the windshield, based on your own experiences having driven past a particular point every day for the last many years, but the reality could be much different on a particular evening. Using only intuition in most cases the CEOs perception may be far from reality, thus giving a false sense of what needs to be done. This is a classic example of being asleep at the wheel. The CEO may expect some thing, which the performance shaders are well equipped to masquerade when called upon. The CEO gets a fall sense of security in knowing that his people are closely looking at numbers and measuring things. Whats amiss in this equation, is the inability of the CEO to challenge what’s being measured and why.

Recently a group of very senior and talented external HR / Performance Management consultants (albeit not Sahabs by any stretch of the imagination)  in Pakistan were discussing some of their large scale projects. (Past projects for my benefit-without names for obvious reasons of discretion).

The central theme that emerged was, that like society at large, the corporate fabric of performance is also shaded, just like we shade the truth in our every day interactions, corporations are no different. For professional organizations, the typical life of an outside CEO is three years, hence they only tend to focus on short to medium term gains, they didn’t join the organization to be a hero, so they don’t ask the difficult questions. In the domestic “saith based” organizations, it is an implied rule that there is and can be no one smarter than the owner operator, who much like the feudal ecosystem of our country really only came to power by preying on the insecurities of the people, so the people will only do, what I call alignment with tasks which receive “clapping and praise”. By just doing the things that earn them the “saiths recognition” they are already very deep in the performance shading business. The only way to run a globally, regionally or locally competitive organization, short of the involvement of under invoicing, tax evasion, illegal subsidies, duty forgiveness schemes and the likes there of, is for the leadership of companies to question the performance shading that is so prevalent around them. This can only happen with the right level of skill set, exploration techniques and above all the will and integrity to really make a difference.

” Do not waste a minute — not a second — in trying to demonstrate to others the merits of your performance. If your work does not vindicate itself, you cannot vindicate it.”

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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