Performance Management: The Performance Cube and Managerial Performance

A recent article ( by Rick Spence in the National Post intrigued me because of its core thesis: “Why do so many capable business leaders manage things so badly?”. This post explores the article’s thoughts using the model called the performance cube. As a wrap-up, this post also comments on the implications of the article on OD in general and performance management and leader/manager development in particular.

What is the performance cube? It is a three dimensional view on performance that looks at the following dimensions:

  1. Know what to do, and does it?
  2. Know how to do, and does it?
  3. Want to to do it, and does it?

Over the years I have seen this model of performance applied to non-managerial work, but I can’t recall it ever being applied to managerial and leadership work (performance).

The underlying argument for this article’s thesis is the following:

“Bruce Tulgan, founder of Connecticut – based Rainmaker Thinking reported on ‘an epidemic of under management’s 2004 and last week (week of 30 April) released and update proving that nothing has changed. Despite a plethora of management education theories of leadership, and increasing market competitiveness, companies and their leaders are not getting any smarter.”

“Worse, they don’t recognize it. Leaders are trained to be tireless truth-seekers, but they can’t see the problem under their nose. Tulgan says, nine out of 10 managers are under performing. But most think they are doing a fine job.”

“Tulgan defines under-management as a state in which leaders consistently fail to provide … five management basics:

  1. clear statement of performance requirements and expectations;
  2. support and guidance regarding the resources available to meet those expectations;
  3. accurate measuring and documentation of individual’s performance;
  4. regular candid feedback on individuals’ performance;
  5. and, allocating performance-based rewards or detriments.”

Tulgan’s research suggests:

  • One in 10 managers, provide the management basics to their direct reports at least once a week.
  • Three in 10 provide these basics at least once a month.
  • Nearly half fail to provide these basics once a year

” The costs and lost opportunities caused by under-management are incalculably high. … Worse still, bad leaders crowd out good ones … (due to) … failure to recognize and reward great performance.”

Let’s apply the five management basics to the performance cube:

  1. Know what to do? Management basic #1.
  2. Know how to do? Management basic #2, and aspects of 3 and 4.
  3. Want to to do it? Management basic # 5 and aspects of 3 and 4.

I have used the performance cube to assess whether there is a complete system process concerning performance. In other words, does an existing performance system cover all three dimensions with clarity and completeness? I have more often used the cube to diagnose systemic and patterned performance issues (N.B. we can all have bad and great hair days).

One of the key ingredients I have found is that great performance is always grounded and observable within a behavioural context. Yes, we are expected to achieve notable results (and sometimes even outcomes), but to get them we have to “act” or behave in useful ways. Schemes like MBO and the like tend to short shift the behavioural aspects of performance. So when Tulgan reports the infrequency and irregularity of of “providing” (N.B. this is a verb) the basics to direct reports he is speaking behaviourally.

The comment about MBO leads me to my thoughts concerning OD.

If we even discount Tulgan’s research because we impugn he is trying to sell something. We are still left with his core  observations of leader/managerial under performance. I have certainly observed it (using Tulgan’s five basics) many times and have heard many others over the years making similar observations. There is just so much smoke that I am at least wondering if there is a large fire burning.

Where Tulgan’s research is validated by our own observations, we can look to our organization’s performance management schemes as they pertain to leaders and managers as a prime culprit. Yet so many firms have adopted very performance schemes that have been advocated by the so called experts. Hmm!

The observation (“Despite the plethora of new forms of management education, leadership, …”) draws my attention to how OD practioners approach doing leader manager development. The fact that the results of Tulgan’s work covers a decade of research just has to lead us to consider that part of the problem is how we approach developing people in these roles. Furthermore, I have observed over the years the not uncommon behaviour by OD development practioners to blame the the client. Fair enough as far as it goes, but if a concern repeats itself time and time again, we are faced with the “insanity” judgement (expecting different results by doing more of what we are more or less already doing).

I am in OD and I have a lot of pride in being so. I also have so much respect for so many of those in this field that I have had the privilege of getting to know. Yet, I am discouraged by the implications on our field by the results of research such as that done by Tulgan.


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.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Performance Management, Risk & Uncertainty, Strategy, Talent Manangement, Values and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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