Friday 18 January 2008

MUSIC not measurement in performance management

I've been thinking about whether, if there is a growing opportunity to shift from a top-down, measurement based, compliance focused system of performance management towards a bottom-up, human and commitment focused approach that I've called performance leadership, then whether it is time to start downplaying many organisations' emphasis on SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound - or variations of this).

SMART helps ensure people know what they need to do and how they play their part in helping achieve the organisation's strategic objectives. It allows the organisation to cascade goals down to all employees, and ensure that there is a good line of sight between them. It aids effectiveness and efficiency. But it does very little to inspire.

Above all, it treats people as a resource (human resources) in the business that can be directed to a company's ends, rather than a unique human being (a source of human capital) that can provide the basis for competitive success and transformation.

So how about MUSIC as a new acronym in performance management?

  • Motivational: focused on what would truly inspire the individual to go beyond simply doing his or her job.

  • Unusual: good performance management systems already stress that performance management objectives should not focus on part of the day jobs, but should reflect new or increased responsibilities or requirements. In performance leadership, we may need to extend this further to ensure that each individual is set objectives that are different to other peoples' or what they have done before.

  • Sensory: one of the reasons that SMART objectives have been quite useful is that they extend the pyschological priming effect that simply having a clear set of goals provides (just having goals can sometimes be all that is needed to make them happen as the brain starts to unconsciously guide action towards their achievement). But this is even more effective when the goals are supported by thinking about the sensory evidence that would come with their achievement (NLP practitioners will know what I'm talking about here).

  • Individual: I've already said that goals should be unusual, and it is their focus on each individual, their own particulaly skills, motivations and interests, that provides this.

  • Congruent: This isn't about people going AWOL, goals still need to relate to the business plan, but they come from the individual and the individual's insight into how they might play the greatest role in delivering the business strategy, than from a piece of paper produced by people at the top of the organisation who don't know the details about what people lower down the organisation do.

Of course, we still need SMART objectives too, and MUSICal goals will probably only apply to a small proportion of an organisation's workforce eg its knowledge workers, its talent etc. But I think for these groups, it might provide a significant human capital led boost.
What do you think?


  1. Jon - I like this suggestion, and think that it provides a useful way of stimulating experienced people managers taking a new look at this topic.

    As you indicate, the 'return on investment' of adopting this model is likely to be realised with Knowledge Workers, especially to stretch & inspire 'high-potentials' where delivering on the day-to-day core deliverables is to be expected.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that for most organisations there may be more of a pressing need to ensure people-managers are skilled at putting into practice either framework - and that for these organisations SMART will suffice.

    As the pace of change appears to increase, keeping specific goals on-target as the environment changes is an increasing challenge.

    Equally, the perpetual challenge of ensuring people-managers (are skill in, &) have the 'courageous conversations' when goals are not met, addressing performance issues against the goals set remains.

  2. Not interested in a meeting to develop a performance leadership approach?

  3. Thanks for your comments,

    John, I agree, of course, with your points, companies need to get good at performance management before they do this performance leadership stuff, or they end up with an organisation that may be a great place to work but isn't commercially successful or sustainable. This actually was the conclusion of the research I did while at Buck, and I referred to briefly in my previous post.

    Jo, that would be good. I'll get in touch.


  4. If music be the food of performance management, play on. How could I disagree with this mnemonic John

  5. It is good isn't it! - even if you're not an HR rockstar!


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