230 – A way to show performance is determined by the system.

600 words (3 minutes reading time)                                                         Colin Weatherby

95 - 5 Vanguard

Source: Vanguard video ‘Tactics for helping people learn about the 95:5 principle, Part 1′

There have been several posts about performance appraisal and the ineffectiveness of systems designed to improve the performance of individuals. This posts picks up on the key theme of those posts – i.e. a person is not totally responsible for their performance in a system of work and managers need skills in understanding and improving the system.

This has been a compelling idea in my thinking and my work. Despite the many criticisms and problems encountered with people and their work in local government, I have met very few people who come to work to do a bad job. Many years of watching people work and talking to them about their work had led me to conclude that it was the way they were asked to do the work and the tools they were given that created most of the problems. I just didn’t know how to describe it.

Then I read Peter Scholtes’ book ‘The Leaders Handbook: making things happen, getting things done’, and his quote from Edwards W. Deming struck a chord with me:

“The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.”

This book reinforced that I was on the right track. It wasn’t until I recently subscribed to Vanguard and accessed some of the materials available for 10 weeks to new subscribers that I found a simple way to illustrate that performance is mostly determined by the system of work. As I am writing this, it still seems odd to me that there is a need to prove something that is so self-evident.

In two short videos the Vanguard team describe a simple and effective way to show people how a system affects performance. They use the example of a washing machine repairer (an engineer) being called to fix a washing machine at a home.

They start by asking what the purpose is in the home owner calling the repairer. In this case, ‘fix the washing machine’.

Then they describe the system – ‘home owner calls repair company, talks to call centre staff and describes the problem, the call centre then makes an appointment for the repairer to visit, they order replacement parts based on the problem described to them, the parts are sent to the repairer, the repairer comes to the home’. It could be different process but this covers a simple system.

However, the repairer isn’t able to make the repair as scheduled. You are asked to write down the reasons that might happen. I have taken the liberty of taking a screen shot from the video (the image above) where some of those reasons are listed. In this image, they have gone a step further and coded each reason with the cause – the circled ‘s’ is a system reason. There will be a circled ‘e’ for engineer reasons, and there will be some reasons that are shared between the system and the engineer.

The numbers of reasons attributable fully or partially to the system prove Deming’s point. Most reasons will be to do with the system. I am keen to try it for other situations relevant to my work.

The most interesting part of the video comes at the end when the narrator says that if you are the manager responsible for the repairer, and you think you need to act on the people, you will sit down at this point with the repairer and talk to them about their performance. Perhaps a new objective about trying harder will end up in their performance plan. I can imagine that discussion – I have been part of them.

Alternatively, if the manager thinks they need to act on the system they will start to spend time in the work to look for the barriers to the repairer achieving the purpose. And they will help them to overcome those barriers.

215 – From the Archive: Creative ways to make your capital expenditure target. Some ideas.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          570 words

capital expenditure graph

Originally posted 20 April 2015

Yes, it is that time of the year when our engineers and accountants become highly creative.   By June 30 they will need to explain whether or not the targeted amount of capital works has been completed. Often the target is expressed as simply as ‘90% capital program completed’. Usually it is a KPI for the CEO and senior managers. That makes it an important target.

So, why the need for such high levels of creativity?

Delivering 90% of the planned capital works is harder than it sounds. Many councils would have averaged around 60% to 70% over the last ten years. This is partially explained by growth in capital expenditure that has exceeded the organisational capacity to deliver. Another part of the explanation is that capital works programs have become more diverse with more people participating in the planning and delivery across the council. As a result, projects have become more complex and people with inadequate project management skills are often involved.   Finally, councillors have become much more involved and the capital works program will now have projects that councillors, sometimes in response to community submissions to the budget process, have included – often at the last minute.

As the capital works program has grown, become more complex, involved more people with less skills, and started to include projects without adequate pre-planning or feasibility analysis, especially if they require community engagement, it has become much more difficult to deliver the whole program. But the target remains.

This is where the creativity occurs. Continue reading

76 – Creative ways to make your capital expenditure target. Some ideas.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          570 words

capital expenditure graph

Yes, it is that time of the year when our engineers and accountants become highly creative.   By June 30 they will need to explain whether or not the targeted amount of capital works has been completed. Often the target is expressed as simply as ‘90% capital program completed’. Usually it is a KPI for the CEO and senior managers. That makes it an important target.

So, why the need for such high levels of creativity? Continue reading

70 – What does ‘meeting expectations’ really mean? A performance appraisal story.

Posted by Whistler                                                                     375 words

apple on teachers desk

Image from http://bellasvitas.blogspot.com.au

I have been reading Lancing Farrell’s posts on performance appraisal with interest. I am sure everyone has a performance appraisal story to tell. A colleague was telling me about her performance appraisal in which she ‘met expectations’. What does that really mean?

Her performance review outcomes possible were on a five point scale – does not meet, partially meets, meets, exceeds, or significantly exceeds expectations. For each outcome there was a definition. The definition for ‘meets expectations’ gives you an idea about the rest. Continue reading

58 – Performance appraisal in local government 4/4. What else could we do?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              650 words

optimus prime transformer

This is the last post in this series. It is also where things start to get interesting. There are alternatives to performance appraisal the way we have always done it. The difficulty is that most are quite different to the current approach and pursuing them will involve the risks that always accompany change. Are we up for it?

We could just stop using performance appraisals. As Peter R. Scholtes writes in The Leaders Handbook, this would require us to start thinking differently. In essence, this would involve adopting a ‘systems thinking’ approach to managing the organisation. This is likely to require systems to support employee development and promotion, providing feedback for improvement, determining training needs, and performance managing the poor performers.

Scholtes proposes what he calls ‘debundling’ of performance appraisal to focus on each benefit that the performance appraisal system supposedly provides. Continue reading

56 – Local government performance appraisal 3/4. What can you do in response to the issues?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              530 words

apple and orange

Choices are necessary regarding the role of performance appraisal and how it will be done. I don’t think anyone thinks that performance should not be measured. It is a matter of how you do it.

Peter R. Scholtes points out the fundamental choice facing every organisation very clearly in The Leaders Handbook. What is most important to your organisation – controlling the behaviour of people to the satisfaction of management, or understanding, controlling and improving processes to benefit customers? Continue reading

55 – Local government performance appraisal 2/4. Why do we do it?

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                   480 words

line in sand

Well, often we don’t as previously discussed. Not all organisations complete them for every employee and in some organisations it is simply a compliance exercise. Even when you do have a performance review system, it may as easily not improve performance as the team at Utopia showed this with unerring insight. I suppose the relevant question is why do we think that we need performance appraisal?

I don’t think it is because we know that it works and helps to align effort and ensure accountability in delivering on organisational objectives. I think we do it because we are bound to do so by industrial agreements and because it creates the illusion of control. Looking like we are in control is as important in local government as it is in other public services. Continue reading

52 – Local government performance appraisal 1/4. What are the issues? (or 5 reasons it doesn’t work)

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                             700 words

performance - rowing

This is the first in a series of four posts on performance appraisal. The central idea is that current performance appraisal systems are not effective.

To begin with, the annual performance appraisal process (sometimes called the performance development plan (PDP) or staff development scheme (SDS)) is often not carried out in local government. When it is, people have usually been compelled to do so or they are simply ‘ticking the boxes’ and being compliant. I have often thought that this is important evidence that the process is not helpful. People ‘vote with their feet’ – if they thought that performance appraisal was useful and that it added value, they would be doing it.

Continue reading