Extract of the article 3.4

Performance Management at Public Organisation

Written by Jean-Claude Sperisen

  1. The issue
  2. A changing context
  3. How are public organisations different ?
  4. National public organisations and international organisations
  5. Who are the performance managers ?
  6. Is management by objectives applicable at public organisations ?
  7. Performance assessment systems
  8. Performance, merit recognition and remuneration
  9. The key conditions for success and the pitfalls to be avoided
  10. The role of the human resources function
  11. Concluding remarks

Performance management seems to have become an essential concern and activity for organisations. Yet it is not a new phenomenon, since steering and organising activities towards objectives to be attained - and then assessing the results and taking any corrective measures necessary - is very much a part of human experience, but it has become more of a conscious and accepted activity than might once have been the case. It seems nowadays that even so-called public organisations are looking into performance management and wondering how it might conceivably relate to them. This new awareness is no doubt to be welcomed, but at the same time it does need to give rise to performance management systems that are well thought out and likely to address the specific issues and needs of such organisations, failing which they might create more problems and frustration than actual solutions.

The aim of this analysis is to examine the nature of the whole issue, the pitfalls to be avoided and the conditions to be met in order to put in place workable systems. I will pay particular attention to the management of the performance of individuals and teams, within the context of the organisational framework.

First of all, though, we need to define what we are talking about, that is, which performance and which management ? To put this simply, one could say that performance is the achievement of that which is sought, or the attainment of that which is aimed for. As for its management, that can be summarised as the definition of goals, the provision of resources to meet them, and control of the process, which includes evaluation of the results. Care should be taken not to reduce performance just to something that is measurable quantitatively and, all too often, that alone.

According to the OECD, performance is often defined as the ability of an organisation to acquire resources economically and to use those resources efficiently and effectively in achieving the output and outcome targets or goals. In public organisations, it is however a more multi-facetted concept involving not only what is produced, but also how it is produced (correct application of laws and other statutes, appropriate access to services and appropriate management of citizen relations). At the level of the individual, performance and its management is not only a question of teams and individuals doing the right things and doing things the right way. It also involves the way individuals behave in a workplace context, and how they contribute to a well-functioning organisation. Thus performance management at the individual level can be described as a process for ensuring that the employees understand what is expected of them, assessing their performance, providing them with feedback, and helping them do better. This means that it should consider both the process and the results, and that it should focus on the learning processes.

Also according to the OECD, the ultimate aim of performance management is to enable operational managers to work with their staff to align their individual needs, interests and career aspirations with the organisation's business needs. The focus should be on the future. Effective performance management will at the same time recognise good work performance and address poor performance. It will identify staff training or development needs, and identify and address other barriers to good work performance.

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