Last updated on October 4th, 2020 at 04:00 pm
Originally posted January 9, 2017.
“Performance” and “politics” don’t mix.
But like Yin and yang, they coexist.
They are the oil and water within every organization’s culture. That is, every organization is a mix of performance and politics within every function, and within every element of the organization. Every member of the organization will experience some combination of performance and politics within their organization and while doing their job.
Like Yin and Yang, they are in constant flux, always fighting for dominance; but achieving only temporal equilibrium.
This is a pretty strong statement; and what does it mean?
“Performance” is the outcome of an activity; that is, performance produces results; something created, something accomplished; or not, as in “lack of performance.” An outcome or result as measured or observed by higher-ordered, external forces; such as the paying customer.
Performance is what is, not what is expected; what it is, being what the customer pays for. When performance isn’t delivered, or if extra cost to support someone’s “expectations” is added on to the bill, customers get mad.
Inherent to performance within the performance equation, is work, wherein performance is earned through work. If one works, one can perform well (all other affecting criteria assumed neutral.) If one does not work at performance, one will not perform (regardless of all other affecting criteria.)
Performance delivers the goods. This is objectively measureable. (Especially by the paying customer.)
Politics is all about “relationships;” as between people or organizations of people. Relationships are all about establishing what someone will do for the other in future, that is, establishing expectations. But relationships in of themselves produce nothing.
Politics delivers “expectations.” Expectations cannot ever be objective, because they reside in someone’s head.
As such, politics are wholly interpersonal expectation relationships established to the benefit of two or more persons, but in themselves, produce nothing. (Just as getting married in itself produces nothing: it merely establishes a relationship; and expectations.)
Politics always adds cost to any performance solution. That is, politics come with a cost – the cost of “meeting expectations” – wherein that something else required to “meet expectations” is applied to the performance solution. Be it buying higher-cost components based on relationships, or supporting someone not germane to producing the product or service, this extra cost is applied on top of the cost of performance solution(s).
With the application of politics, performance solutions cannot realize their lowest cost. An example of this is the cost of providing lobbying services to a company; the cost of the services is applied to the products and services sold by the company. That cost may also include fiscal (or other) support for the direct and subsequent “relationships,” each with their own set of expectations to meet, such as monetary support to this or that cause. These costs have nothing to do with the performance of the product or service; they just drive up total cost.
Oh yes, they also support non-producers who happen to have a good (read: effective) relationship.
What Do Managers Do?
Managers exist because there are never enough resources to accomplish some function; hence the need to “manage” resources to produce the intended result. (With unlimited resources: manpower, materials, machines, methods, and money, we would not need the overhead of management.)
The function of managers is to use those scarce resources to best advantage and to cause those resources to produce a result at lowest cost. So by definition, management is concerned with performance; as a primary and fundamental concern. In fact, managers are compensated based on their results; or they do not last long.
Smart (read: effective) managers do all they can to focus on performance (i.e., objectivity), and minimize politics (i.e., expending resources to “meet expectations.”)
This means that effective managers are really effective at minimizing the affects of politics in the workplace, and in the products and services. Because insulating performance from politics is not strictly a management function, these managers are sometimes labeled “leaders.”
What Do Politicians Do?
Politicians exist because someone always wants their expectations met; and because expectations are not objective, relationships are required to serve expectations. Politicians as a class have implemented the industry of building relationships to cater to expectations.
The function of a politician is to build relationships and leverage expectations, and they are compensated by their ability to deliver on expectations. But only expectations.
Effective politicians do all they can to inject (their favorite) someone’s expectations into the performance solution, thereby placing the cost of their relationships squarely on the paying customer.
So Where Are We?
“Pay for Performance” is an attempt to separate politics from performance. It is a recognition that the customer wants, and will pay for outcomes; results; and does not want to bear the burden (i.e., pay for) someone else’s relationships.
On the other hand, whenever someone is focused on the relationship, and is communicating in terms of “meeting expectations,” they are promoting politics – relationships – at the expense of performance. (That is, as an additional cost to performance.)
So when someone tells you that “it’s all about relationships,” the next phrase out of their mouth may very well be: “What are you going to do for me?”