Performance Management: It’s a lot about constraints

In an article (Overcoming those knock-outs – I read an interesting observation that pertains to how we should think about performance management:

“…wouldn’t it be ironic if constraints were essential ingredients of business success.”

If I had any argument  with this observation, it is that it equivocates and does not paint a wide enough brush regarding high performance. I thank the author (Rick Spence) for bringing to mind this novel way of thinking about performance management.

The suggestion here is that high performance is a function of constraints. How so?

Let us use the classical performance cube to illustrate:

Side 1. Know what to do (having priorities, purpose, clarity around deliverables, etc.)

Side 2. Know how to do (having the physical and mental/emotional capabilities, skills knowledge and information necessary to succeed)

Side 3. Know why to (and subsequently, want to – the motivation piece)

Anyone who is a high performer or coaches those who are are aware of how important “focus” is to success. Isn’t focus the deliberate act of setting constraints? Constraints on what will be paid attention to and most important what will be ignored. The “know what to do” is the decision on where to focus

To have superior physical, mental/emotional capabilities, skills, knowledge, etc. requires focus on learning, refining and practising. These are also constraint like choices as the commitment to acquire these competencies often takes much work. Hence, time is allocated to these pursuits and not to others. A form of setting constraints. the whole notion of specialization and profession embody this principle

The act of being motivated is task in itself. It requires being clear on why what you are doing (especially during the difficult times) is worth persisting at. Dedication is an act of setting constraints on what you choose to chase and how.

Distractions may be the biggest impediment to high performance and success. Yet we witness so very often at work, play and other venues where people would like to do their very best.

So the practice of performance management if it is serious must consider how constraints are critical to success so that people can “get to be great” and be allowed to “demonstrate their greatness”.

Perhaps we can think of a metaphor for how constraints and incentives work together to promotes great performance: the water channel

  • The channel walls act as constraints in that they direct the flow of water in a particular direction. Good design deals with questions of how wide/narrow, how deep and how much “water rise room” are appropriate. Performance constraints such as in business processes accomplish the exact same goals.
  • The role of incentives is like gravity and channel slope which influences/controls the speed of flow. Speed can be too fast as well as too slow. Great performance is not about cranking up the speed, this is like a running motor without a governor or in the channel example like a raging torrent of water coursing down a dike made of soft earth (erosion).

Thank you Rick, your opening lines were most illuminating to me.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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