Subjectivity is at the core of Performance Management

Although it appears simple on the surface; performance management is something that is more complex. In simple terms, it is usually understood as business outcomes that are achieved in relation to objectives. If objectives are met, they count for performance. If they don’t, the performance can be said to be poor.

Performance management is much more than numbers

But is this really as simple as that? This concept can be straightjacketed when performance management is made of disciplines like sales or marketing. Sales is generally about numbers, and so, the sales person who meets his sales target is a performer. But what about areas like healthcare or education? Consider this conundrum: should a surgeon’s performance management scale be given the highest marks for making a bedridden patient sit up, or for carrying out a surgery by which an athlete was able to run faster? Is a teacher’s performance below par if a weak student scores better marks, but still below that of the average student, or is it high if an already high scoring student betters himself?

The point here is that not all performance indicators are absolute. Where there is subjectivity involved in the performance, as seen in the second of the above examples; performance management too, becomes subjective. However, “subjectivity” is a term management experts are loath to hearing, because many of them go by the dictum of management: “what cannot be quantified cannot be managed”.

Complexity should be the criterion

The foundation of performance management should be the complexity or reality of the situation in which the candidate is performing. Factors such as the market are primary. A salesman can perform highly in a market in which the company’s product already has a presence. But will the same person be as successful if she were given a new territory and a new product? Even in the case of the doctor and teacher that we examined, the foundation has to be the situation in which they performed. Many a time, just making a patient sit up could count for a greater performance than making another patient run. Just making an abnormal child understand a concept could be a greater performance than helping an intelligent child get better marks.

Reward on a case-to-case basis

This is the sum of performance management. Although some pundits like to think of absolute values, the parameters are what really matter. This is what a sound performance management system has to factor in. Rewards have to be commensurate with the performance, which no doubt, are driven by objectives, but these objectives cannot be fixed on all occasions.


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