2022 – The Year of Performance Management

Dec 29, 2022

I’ve been reflecting on our 2022 projects and the attributes they share; the common themes that linked dozens of otherwise-unrelated engagements.
Of course, the most significant change compared to 2021 and, above all, 2020, was the return to in-person work. After adopting Teams and Zoom as our principal enablers of collaboration, we have now dusted off our work walls and hypertiles and Post-Its and colored markers to return to the world of face-to-face; which now makes up well over 80% of our work. Sure, we have learned to integrate a virtual on-ramp into our in-person engagement, but the real action happens when we are all together in the same room – thank goodness!
But there is a subtler message that is emerging from our work this past year that reveals some of the deeper concerns that our (hopefully temporary) reliance on virtual engagement might have camouflaged.
The recurring theme in 2022 is Performance Management. Whether the ostensible purpose of our project was technical (managing changes to the electric grid to accommodate renewables) or organizational (enabling collaboration between silos in a large UN agency) or policy-oriented (aligning the board of a global health alliance around Covid-related strategic challenges), the conversation kept returning to three fundamental questions:
Are we working well together?
Are we achieving what we set out to achieve?
What can we learn from analyzing how we have performed?
Why these recurring questions? Why did 2022 turn out to be the year of Performance Management?
There is no way to know for sure, but I have a hypothesis:
Before the pandemic and before the normalization of virtual work, we spent much of our professional lives within view of each other. We simply knew whether we were working well together because we could feel it.
We had scorecards and dashboards to tell us which targets we hit and which we missed, but that wasn’t nearly as important as the sense of achievement we felt when we shared our successes in person.
While we could have been better at learning from our successes and failures, our teams and our organizations thrived on feedback – occasionally formalized yet more frequently felt in the aether of the living organism that we were all a part of.
Now, as Covid recedes, we have adopted the habits of remote work and there is no going back to the full-time office routine. What we have gained in flexibility we have lost in atmosphere, in body language, and in the quotidian telepathy that sharing a physical space engenders.
So, the intuitive sense of ‘how are we doing?’ is being replaced by a formalized system of performance management. This reliance on structure and rigor is unreservedly a good thing. But the sudden emergence of performance management as an urgent topic worthy of attention, time, and money, is also a reflection of what we have lost now that we have adopted Zoom and Teams as our medium of communication, even when in-person alternatives are again available to us.
So, viva Performance Management! And viva getting back together in person!
– Dan Newman

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