Principles of Performance Dialogue

The literature acknowledges the importance of interpretative processes, discussion and organizational learning in public performance management, but a knowledge gap remains concerning the mechanism of performance dialogue. To fill this gap, our article studies the principles of performance dialogue and collaborative performance management in public administration.

The paper analyzes the evolution of performance management practices in one city organization in Finland, suggests that performance dialogue needs to be integrated with management practices and explains how this can be done.

Based on the analysis, three guiding principles of performance dialogue and collaborative performance management are derived. These underline the role of ‘referees of the information game,’ a supportive and encouraging environment and providing a structure for the use of performance information.

Performance management literature as well as public management practice has stressed rational control and technocratic approaches focusing on the design and implementation of measurement systems. However, there is an increasing interest in cultural control mechanisms and organizational learning.

Our case organization piloted learning forums as a new kind of enabling control mechanism to improve performance dialogue and organizational learning. Based on our experiences, performance information is too often provided as a back-office function, and dialogue with information users is either completely lacking or somehow disturbed.

A cultural change is needed.

As mentioned, the performance management literature and also the management practice builds on a technocratic tradition, focuses on indicators and information systems, and provides very little guidance for the use of performance information.

This lack of a focus on information use has had severe consequences and is reflected by the inability of many organizations to effectively utilize performance information. New kind of knowledge-based management culture should turn the focus from information specialists and information provision to information users.

Based on our empirical findings, we argue that the main strength of the performance dialogue approach is that it aims to give a structure to the use of performance information. It is not dialogue for the sake of dialogue, but it provides a systematic way to handle the chosen information and to derive conclusions.

Someone needs to take the lead.

Based on our observations and experiences, it seems highly valuable to have someone in charge of initiating the dialogue, keeping it alive, summarizing the findings, and continuously challenging the participating managers by asking difficult questions.

This is part of the cultural shift; stepping away from the familiar and safe answers toward experimenting and seeking new answers through collaborative problem-solving.

We believe that performance dialogue is a platform for collaborative sense-making and helps managers to better understand the complex phenomena and processes they are responsible for.

Our study contributes by extending the analysis of the determinants that affect the use of performance information to suggest concrete methods that would increase use.


Read more:

Laihonen, H. and Mäntylä, S. (2017), “Principles of performance dialogue in public administration”, International Journal of Public Sector Management, 30(5).

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