Performance information in the public sector has been described as uncomprehensive, ambiguous and subjective. Interpreting this type of performance information has increased the need for using a performance dialogue, a process in which people discuss the interpretation of performance information and the actions needed to improve performance.
The suggestion to use performance dialogues is based upon the notion that these dialogues can help public sector actors better understand and manage the complexity and ambiguity associated with public sector performance.
Although accounting and performance management studies have highlighted the need for dialogue both at the societal and organizational level, these studies have not mapped out the managerial choices that public managers face when designing and implementing dialogic performance management. Thus, we do not actually know what does it mean and require if we want to change our performance management practices.
In our recent study, we tried to better understand what dialogic performance management actually means and what kind of managerial choices are involved. Like many authors, we see that dialogic performance management is a direct consequence of modern ideal of participatory management.
Based on a literature review, we suggest a definition for dialogic performance management. We propose the idea that dialogue is a sum of its elements. To identify these elements, we looked for similarities between the different descriptions and definitions of dialogue presented in accounting, performance management, dialogue and dialogic leadership literature. Then, we defined these common elements based on the similarities we perceived and gave them names. Finally, by joining the concepts of performance dialogue and performance management, we propose a definition of dialogic performance management:
Dialogic performance management (DPM) embeds performance dialogue into performance management to set objectives, direct employees, define metrics, produce performance information via measuring, and/or determine actions to improve performance.
After defining the phenomenon, we move on to analyze what managerial choices relate to dialogic performance management. We use a narrative approach and recognize the choices from the stories that public managers told us in the interviews.
From the empirical data, we recognize managerial choices relating to seven key elements of performance dialogue. We demonstrate how public managers can choose different purposes, topics, participants, time spans, forums, dialogue methods and performance information when orchestrating performance dialogues.
Our paper shows that moving from ‘the old’ performance management towards a more collaborative and dialogic performance management means that performance dialogues become management issues and managerial choices addressing these dialogues have to be made.
Based on our analysis, dialogue is a useful tool or method that can be an integral part of successful performance management. Indeed, the public managers participating in this research named dialogue as an important tool that supported performance management functions and created more participatory management at all levels of management.
Furthermore, it seems that the previous literature has painted an oversimplified picture of the managerial choices because it has not identified the elements of performance dialogues and the diverse set of managerial choices arising from these elements. Our study contributes by providing some guidance for assessing the needed managerial choices.
Rajala, T. and Laihonen, H. (2019), “Managerial choices in orchestrating dialogic performance management”, Baltic Journal of Management, 14(1), 141-157.