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Performance in an IT organization starts with people and leadership, and requires cognitive analysis rather than a logical thinking (current view) – to drive change, analysis, engagement – and success!”

As a management consultant, I often discuss IT strategic and performance management issues with CIOs. We discuss how to improve the IT brand in the value chain and to foster value creation with the right governance and strategy. In the end, I often hear the same story:

“We need a ‘performance culture’ in our organization to be successful” – CIO

The statement itself is very interesting since it includes a word – “performance” – that has become a key buzzword of our decade without a clear definition. So, what does then “performance culture” mean? In most cases, *performance” is an undefined word with a general meaning of “do good” or “be successful”. But what does “performance” actually mean and how can we rise before in an organization?

Let us first start with the actual definition of “performance”.

“Performance: the accomplishment of a given task against preset know standard”

– Businessdictionary 2015

Performance is about the fulfillment of an objective, strategy or expectations. The success of a task can only be viewed from an objective or expectation. In other words, if you do not have an objective, strategy or expectations – you (or your organization) cannot perform. Simple as that! A “performance culture” is a culture where objectives, strategy and expectations are visual and transparent, and the organization (or individuals) uses all efforts to achieve that goal or expectation. Good to know.

For an organization to performance, it is 50% about setting the right objectives (based on strategy and expectations), 30% creating an atmosphere of engagement and energy, and 20% about performance follow-up (KPI:s) and actions. What I see in many organizations is that the focus in mainly on actions and follow-up (command and control) with limited support from a great strategy, and engagement employees (only 14% in recent studies) through self-governance and true leadership. This means that organization build a very weak “performance culture” unable to build competitiveness and success in the digital era.

Note: Read previous blog post – What is a Great IT Strategy?

Performance Management is all about setting the right strategy, objectives, setting the right KPIs and targets, the right follow up mechanisms in a transparent, in an engaging way to foster a performance culture – supporting business competitiveness and success. The thing is that all of these tasks and activities fit together in a beautiful puzzle and we cannot isolate one activity (for example KPIs) from the others as it affects the performance.

“Performance Management is about how to achieve of the strategic objectives by planning, monitoring and ensuring change of business systems or behavior in a (changing) business environment. “ – Hans Gillior (2014)

In an organization I previously worked with, the word “performance” was used in all kind of situations with unclear meaning. What we did was to clearly define “performance” and other strategic vocabulary to ensure that we spoke the same language. We also defined the meaning of KPIs to only track strategic objectives and themes – and other measurement were called Performance Indicators, Service Performance Indicators or Financial Performance Indicators to clarify their purpose and how they relate to the strategy. What is actually the objective, or expectation we are trying to achieve? It helped us to get the right semantics and starting point for our performance management framework.

My point of view is that many IT organization see performance in the same way as the uptime of an application – the higher the better. It is something that we can improve implementing technical protocols, service managers, support organizations and best-practice frameworks (such as ITIL). This logic is very difficult to translate into an IT organization and value creation. The things is that organizational performance starts with people and leadership, and it is about understanding IT’s role, analyzing IT’s situation, strengthen IT’s value proposition, driving change and how to engage IT employees and leadership. One can say that organizational performance requires a cognitive thinking rather than a logical thinks – to drive analysis and engagement. This is a completely different ball game from measuring uptime on an application – and a wrong approach does not create a “performance culture”.

My recommendations:

  • Before you start talking about a “performance culture” or rising the “performance” in your organization – invest time to understanding what performance concept actually is. Do we have a great strategy in place with clear objectives (SMART)? Do we have engaged employees and leadership? Do we have follow-up mechanisms to ensure change and reaction in organization?
  • Contact The Goodwind Company – experts in Performance Management to guide you in the right direction to raise your performance and take the first step towards a “performance culture”. We can help you to be successful!

I often try to relate to sports to understand management concepts. It is fair to say that a sports team performs when the expectations on a team are achieved – and it is not always about winning. A weak team can lose a game and still performance because it played above expectations. At the same time, a great team can win and still underperform – playing under expectations. These scenarios can be discussed endlessly and I think that that is one reason why sports are so interesting to follow. Performance is based on he expectations on the team or individual.

For the IT organization, performance is a relative (and not absolute) measurement of success. We need to understand what our performance is relative to and improve our performance. The next time you encounter the word “performance” – think about what is actually means for you. The few seconds of reflection will make a world of difference!

– Hans Gillior

Hans Legend 1