Performance Bonfire

“Performance management feels like something that is done to us – with no benefit for us”

We need the courage to create, permission to innovate and feel like it is ok to fail – above all reward curiosity.”

Chris Bruce, from the Joint Improvement Team, blogs for us about our the first event of the Fire Starter Festival, a ‘Performance Bonfire’, which arose out of a feeling that we need to show what could work as a ‘Scottish Approach to ‘performance’.

We received gifts in relation to both words in the title:

  • A performance is something we put on, for ourselves and others, it isn’t necessarily real.
  • A bonfire was originally a bone fire. These were perhaps a necessity when ‘full’ burial grounds were cleared to make way for future generations. Another hint came from the suggestion that dinosaur bones give us a sense of what the creatures were like, but the whole beast remains a mystery.

So, last Monday, 25 volunteers from across public services came together to share thoughts on our experience of the Scottish system of performance management – and to use an Appreciative Inquiry approach to surface clues for improving on what we have just now.

“We need to get to the point where empowered staff/services are able to identify and test change in a dynamic post Christie world – behaviours and approaches consistent with this and we’re all involved.”

Where are we now?

spag junction
Image credit: The Highways Agency

Using pictures as prompts, we talked about what we see and feel now. There was a sense of a Scottish Approach needing a new way of understanding how we are ‘performing’: as individuals, communities and systems. One person said that the current framework was like spaghetti junction: “the designers thought it made sense; when you are in the middle of it, not so much”.  Looking ahead, someone else remarked on a picture of two cogs interlocking and asked “can we mesh well, it’s a good feeling when there are relationships and information links well”.

Where might we want to be?

We used the four Ds – Discover, Dream, Design (based on the work of David Cooperrider) to structure our conversations in groups of five people, coming back together in plenary to consider Destiny and what we might do next.  This approach seeks to unearth our very best experiences and draw out common themes to build on in imagining a better future.

Lots of clues emerged.  Here are some favourites:

  • We need to think about layers, beginning with self, system and society. With appropriate feedback at each one.
  • A rebalancing between assurance and improvement through greater levels of trust.
  • Does the role of central government also need to be about giving people more space and expand the pool of innovation? New powers for Scotland create new opportunities for innovation on performance measurement, e.g. to reflect the values increasingly dominant in the Scottish Approach to public service design and delivery, such as place making, whole person and user perspective.
  • Establish a culture around our values – building personal performance, recruitment, supervision around values in my organisation.
  • Ambition and big aims – BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) which are understood and supported. Switch from targets to setting problems to solve, goals and outcomes.
  • Decisions are emotional not logical – use stories – power of stories/narrative.
  • People are put at the heart – both citizens and staff.
  • Focus more on partnership performance and shared outcomes (not on individual performance – always done as part of an organisation or wider system) we need to know how to work in teams better – emotional intelligence.
  • Develop the skills for helpful conversations that enable feedback.

Now what?

The group were keen to know how serious the Scottish Government is to try out different approaches to understanding how we are performing and how we tell that story.  We undertook to ask the Performance Board about this.

We also felt a couple of cracks opening where we might focus further work: one is the recent ambitious changes to procurement legislation, another, the notion of ‘freeing up’ an area or locality from the existing performance requirements and asking them what they would want to tell their community and the rest of Scotland about their performance.

There may be Enabling Collaborative Leadership test sites which choose to focus on performance during 2016/17.

Several of the best practice examples that were shared on the day are being written up or tested already. We can continue to learn from them.

Everyone present agreed to share contact details, and consider further collaborative action.

Chris Bruce.

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