Research | Dr Tina Lambert

Large organisations are constantly in a state of change. Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers [1998:9] confirm that “…we participate in a world where change is all there is”.

There would probably be very few people who would argue that this is the case in the public sector.  Managers are constantly being told that they need to work smarter and harder with diminishing resources.

Then there are pressures from superiors above and pressures from staff below.  Everyone wants something yesterday so the working day gets longer and at the same time employees are told that they work in a family friendly environment. These dichotomies create tensions of difference, uncertainty and insecurity.

Superimpose these pressures with constant reviews and restructures and an image starts to emerge of the environment people work in.  consultants are regularly bought in to tell people what’s working and what isn’t in their part of the organisation.  People generally seem to feel demoralised, disempowered and unhappy.  One of the drivers is to continue to strive for that next promotion, which more often than not includes more staff and more responsibility! Workloads are often considered relentless and unsustainable with no lessening in sight.

The Research Project

The dissertation discusses an intervention with a group of professionals operating in a public sector environment. The group had just been restructured and reviewed by an external consultant. The key issues identified in the review were gaps in leadership and financial skill sets for program and project leaders.

The research project objective was to consider whether ‘performance management works in the public sector’ and improve on the current arrangements that were in place for the group.

Along the way the research demonstrated that it was difficult to exclusively focus on performance management. Issues started to emerge in terms of change management, behavioural and attitudinal reactions and leadership capabilities.

The project offered a rare opportunity to examine a system which had not been closely questioned for three decades. It also provided an opportunity to challenge people’s thinking about what worked, what didn’t and what could be done to improve the group’s performance.

Given the nature of the work undertaken by the project group, internal and external drivers and pressures, continual change and dealing with uncertainty, reactions to the project were a critical component of the learning journey. Some of the initial thinking and questions this raised were: would the project group value participating in something new? Would they feel empowered by the process? Would they be able to see that in the long-run it would be useful to think about doing something differently? Do busy people want another facilitator [who probably represented more change] to come in to help them do work in terms of performance management?