Can Performance and Politics Mix?by Stacey Barr |
Listen to the media and you’ll quickly realise that measurement is too often used as a political tool, to push a political agenda rather than discover the truth.
Recently I was listening to a radio program that interviewed two opposing representatives on the issue of regulating the trucking industry by fixing minimum wages for drivers. The idea was to improve safety on our roads. Rather than who was right and who was wrong, what interested me was the constraint that the ‘opposition dynamic’ put on finding a good solution.
The proponent for regulating wages in the trucking industry put forward that it’s the right way to improve safety. When truckers are paid more, they will feel less pressure to work long hours to earn enough money. He quoted figures about trucking industry fatalities being higher than any other industry. He claimed there was evidence of a correlation between wages and safety. His performance outcome was safer roads and a safer trucking industry.
His opponent explained that unionising the trucking industry will kill small business. She said their customers would not want to pay higher fees, and the truckers would then lose business. She told stories of how truckers were worried their trucks would be repossessed, and they’d lose their substantial investment in the trucking business. She quoted figures about the numbers of concerned truckers. She claimed there was no evidence that higher wages would result in safer roads. Her performance outcome was that small businesses don’t fail and cause families to lose money and work and their investment in their trucks.
Each party used the measurements that supported their politics.
Both the proponent’s and the opponent’s performance outcomes are good outcomes. They matter to everyone. But they appear to be more interested in being right, in winning the debate. In making their outcome – and in particular, their initiative – the priority. But they each only used measures that were part of the full story. And that’s the risk of measurement in a context of politics – each party is selective in the facts they choose to evidence their side’s position.
Who, therefore, is interested in getting the best evidence to find the solution that serves both of these important outcomes? Who is interested in digging deeper than the “he says, she says” tit-for-tat that dominates most political debates?
What if opposing political sides could be independently facilitated to agree all the outcomes that matter, to all interests they represent, to find and evaluate the most relevant evidence, and to collaborate to find a solution that serves all outcomes the best?
Does this political dynamic show itself in the way performance is managed in your organisation? What are your thoughts about whether performance and politics really can mix, and produce the outcomes that matter most?
I believe you are correct in your basic point that adversarial discussions are not the best way to discover the truth. The first and most important step in decision making is to collect all the relevant information about the problem and the adversarial approach encourages each ‘side’ to conceal information.
For example, with your truckies, what would be wrong with paying them more? And how strong is the causative effect between higher pay and less dangerous driving and accidents?
I assume, although neither ‘side’ seems to be making this point, that the pay increase would apply only to owner-drivers and not to the large freight companies, thus giving the latter a price advantage. I may be wrong, which just goes to demonstrate my first point.
Before you make a decision, collect and analyse the relevant data.
These opposing representatives obviously don’t see the condition of customers goods being delivered, nor do they see the way customers goods are handled.I see it on a daily basis from a number of transport companies and I would pay the drivers less ,if anything ,unless they deliver goods intact , in full and undamaged What sort of driver delivers an empty tube of 1.2 metres that left the depot as a 4 metre tube with contents ? More than 1 driver has done that . Subbies who rely on the business take care and will bend over backward to help customers .
Two thoughts from my experience in state government in the USA:
1. I helped develop a successful strategy, and carry it out, to put a low-level radioactive waste disposal site operator under economic regulation. I realized that the site operator’s interests would need to be considered, along with the interests of generators of radioactive waste and the state’s interests. I recommended that we use the principles of “win-win” negotiations; i.e., each party identifies their interests – as distinct from their positions – and agrees to look for solutions in which everyone is able to achieve their interests. Using a facilitated negotiation process, the team was able to come up with a regulatory framework which was ultimately adopted by the legislature and implemented.
2. I have seen examples of performance and politics NOT mixing. Our state used a performance-based-budget prioritization process to help inform decision makers about the relative effectiveness and value of different activities. However, during an election year, the Governor’s staff convinced the Governor to remove priorities from any public communication. I assume the reason was because every activity of state government is associated with some interest group; having a document which ranked any activity as a lower priority risked offending such groups, which carried the possibility of losing votes or support. However, that meant that a large, time-consuming exercise to review and prioritize activities based on performance was made pointless.
The political stances you describe in a governmental context can also be found in company settings. The ‘interests’ that a company is looking for can be contradictory in some aspects, trying to serve a wide spectrum of goals from providing employment, creating shareholder value (profit), being environmentally responsible etc.. As each of the departments in the company tries to work towards their (part of) the overall goals, they may find themselves at odds with one another too. In this context I really like the ‘win-win negotiations’ approach that Jeffrey mentioned above. In my mental model I see a Results Map (or ‘Interests’ map) forming where each result is clearly shown in relationship to other results and ultimately to the (presumably also in politics…) shared end-game. The way this map is built collaboratively and transparently with all players, would go a long way to collectively finding those solutions (or improvements, interventions etc.) that serve most (or all?) interests. However, in a truly political/governmental environment (as opposed to corporate), this will probably be somewhat wishful thinking – as in politics you always have ‘the opposition’ that disagrees with the ruling party and finds fault as that shows better in the ratings and gets votes…. (or am I just being cynical 🙂 ).
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