Why is dialogue on performance challenging?

Scholars have argued that public organizations use performance information mainly for advocacy and lack the ability to engage in goal-based learning (Moynihan, 2005) and that the instrumental use of performance information (i.e., a direct link between measurement and judgment) happens only rarely (e.g., Pollitt, 2006; Van Dooren and Van De Walle, 2008).

When the direct link from performance information to decision-making is missing, interpretation and discussion are needed. Therefore, performance measurement literature, has focused increasingly on interpretative processes and organizational learning (Moynihan and Landuyt 2009; Rashman et al. 2009) and highlights the social nature of performance management (Bititci et al. 2012).


This new and more social form of performance management necessitates performance dialogue where participants jointly interpret performance information and discuss it while recognizing the actions needed to manage the performance according to this information (Rajala et al., 2018).

Despite suggesting dialogue to remedy difficulties in performance information use, performance management literature has not addressed the specific challenges of performance dialogues. Nor is there much empirical research on the challenges inherent in such dialogue.

This is a knowledge gap our recent paper aims to fulfill by answering the research questions: What challenges are related to performance dialogue? How do they differ from known problems in using performance information?

The aim was to ascertain whether performance dialogues can solve the challenges of performance information use as suggested by the previous literature (cf. Moynihan, 2005; Laihonen and Mäntylä, 2017).


Unfortunately, such was not the case in the organizations studied.

We found that performance dialogues suffered from the challenges typical of dialogues, which implies that performance dialogues are no miracle cure for problems in performance information use.

The second major implication of the study concerns the relationships and mechanisms of challenges in performance information use.

Much scholarly effort has been invested in distinguishing analytically between the reasons for complications in performance information use. However, in our qualitative study we saw that in performance dialogues these reasons intermingle.

A specific challenge may actually be a combination of multiple challenges and be perceived and described in various ways depending on the viewpoint taken. Failure to perceive and analyze these relationships pertaining between the challenges will result in oversimplification and erroneous perceptions.


To answer the question set in the title, our main finding was that mental models, motivation, power, organizational culture and structure, and social rule system are factors causing challenges for performance dialogues in studied organizations.

Individuals can be motivated to perform certain acts of power that cause troubles for the performance dialogues. However, it is the organizational culture that reveals which of these harmful practices are socially condoned and legitimized within the organization.

Organization culture can enable and even encourage destructive behavior that ruins the efforts to conduct performance dialogues. Organizational structure and social rule system can also enable and even trigger these harmful practices of individuals.

Read more:

Rajala, T., Laihonen, H., Haapala, P. (2018), “Why is dialogue on performance challenging in the public sector?”, Measuring Business Excellence, 22(2), 117-129.


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