Performance Management Revisited

Graham Little (Director-OPD International & Author) on new approaches in understanding the difference between perfect human performance and actual human performance

Imagine a young and healthy male stating proudly that he could long jump four feet. Would you be impressed? Hardly! Why? You know four feet is not a big deal. The world record for men’s long jump is close to thirty feet. This gives background facts, but what did you do in mind to be so unimpressed? What is going on psychologically? Why is it important to understand performance management?

We see with our mind, not with our eyes

In 1978, two researchers conducted a social science research. Their findings have formed the fundamental basis of my insight into psychology ever since. They asked 50 people to examine a house with an intention of buying it and then asked another 50 to examine the house with an intention of burgling it. They sat each group in a separate room and asked them to list what they remembered about the house. The lists were totally different. I have used the example of ‘what you see when you look at a house to buy or burgle’ in dozens of workshops to make the point of how attitude can shape what one sees, and opportunity begins with our attitude.

‘Buy’ and ‘burgle’ are specific aspects of thought. I will typically use the term ‘personal theory’ to describe thought, but the term is interchangeable with ‘conceptual template’, ‘conceptual model’ or just ‘theory’ or ‘model’. The term used will depend on context with each term bringing forward a different property of thought. We see with our mind not with our eyes.

Understanding ‘buy’ and ‘burgle’ on frames

Imagine a box of power point frames just behind your eyes. Now imagine what is on a frame. Imagine looking at a house to buy or to burgle. When you think ‘buy’, you visualise a frame with ‘buy’ on it and when you think ‘burgle’, you find the frame with ‘burgle’. The frames and the operation of power point are a simple model of psychology. Now imagine all possible frames that make our world view. Our particular slant on each item in our world view is our attitude. Associated with thought on each frame are emotions. We are more sensitive to some thoughts than others.


Think of any goal, like keeping the refrigerator full of food. The fridge is empty, but instead of going to the supermarket, you go to the movies. You will not be surprised, the fridge is still empty when you get back home. The point is if you wish to achieve a goal, you need to take actions consistent with achieving the goal. Doing them does not guarantee success but not doing them guarantees failure.

Organisations are collections of integrated goals Organisations are focused on strategy, viewed as a complex goal. The details of strategy achievement are cascaded as goals into the jobs that form the organisation structure. If the goals in each job are achieved, then the strategy is achieved. set of ideal actions underlies every strategy We have already established that for every goal there are actions that must be delivered if the goal is to be achieved. These actions are called ideal actions. Every job in the organisation is defined by the goals that are to be achieved, those derived from strategy. Underlying every goal are ideal actions derived from the goal. Hence, in every job, there are ideal actions that must be delivered if the goals of the job are to be achieved. Perfect human performance Let us go back to the long jumper. You were not impressed because you have a standard in mind of a good long jump and that standard is a lot more than four feet. I now argue that you can make an effective judgment on quality only if you have a standard in mind. Now, how good is the quality of human performance in my organisation? Without a standard, how do you know? I think the question cannot be rationally addressed without a standard on which current human performance can be effectively assessed in mind as we assess the four foot long jump. Imagine a job in your organisation. Now, be clear about the key performance indicators (KPIs). These are the goals when achieved contribute to strategy achievement. Now, imagine the action that will best achieve those goals. If you know the job, you will be able to picture in mind the ideal actions that offer the greatest chance of greatest successes. Now, imagine those ideal actions are perfectly thought out and perfectly delivered. You now have a standard exactly as you did for four foot long jump. Perfect human performance is the visualisation of the perfect set of ideal actions being perfectly delivered. The performance gap Now, imagine the actual human performance. It will be less than perfect. The difference between perfect human performance and actual human performance is ‘performance gap’.