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Performance management a leadership imperative

WELCOME to our monthly series called Bible School Business School (BSBS).

Report by Brett Chulu

BSBS takes insights from the historical culture of the ancient Near East as depicted in the Bible, applying them to business, leadership and personal development.

The instalment, a sequel to last month’s BSBS article, looks at the role of gathering performance evidence and tying together performance and reward management. Our key thought is that performance management is a leadership imperative.

The parable of talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 illustrates the principles of effective performance management within the context of integrated leadership roles.

Two critical lessons for business leaders who want to build an above-average strategy-execution or performance management culture that outlives individual talent and individual leaders are considered.

The New King James Version (NKJV) renders Matthew 25:19 this way:
“After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” Here is a nugget of wisdom that is often taken as commonsense but is rarely practised.

The lord, who in an organisational setting is a metaphor for the supervisor or leader, must set aside time to ‘settle accounts.’ It is from this idea of ‘settling accounts’ that we get the idea of accountability. An effective performance management system leads to a strong accountability culture. Of interest is the manner in which the “accounts were settled’’.

In sharp contrast to prevailing practice in Zimbabwe where the supervisor is the one who normally dominates the performance appraisal conversation, (which in all honesty is more of an interrogation session than a dialogue) the leader in the parable used what we can refer to as the ‘hear the account’ approach. Matthew 25:20 (NKJV) brings to view this performance appraisal approach: “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.” This pattern is repeated with all servants, showing that this was an established performance appraisal practice in the organisation.

Two key components of the ‘hear the account’ approach emerge.
First, it is the supervisee, who must narrate how they have performed. The supervisor’s key role is to carefully listen to the supervisee narrating the account of his/her performance. This narrative is not an unfocused monologue. The servants in the parable knew the standards on which to report. The pattern of their narratives is consistent: They began by restating the inputs or resources that were made available to them. This was followed by stating the tangible results they brought.

The term ‘look’ used by the two servants is very meaningful: The servants supplied evidence to support their claims of performance. The master welcomed the servants’ invitation to ‘look’. He ‘looked’ and verified the evidence scientifically. Here is a very important point that tends to elude many business leaders: It is the primary responsibility of the supervisee to gather performance evidence that will be presented at the time when ‘accounts are settled’.

Second, the supervisor examines the evidence of the claimed performance levels.
The rendering of the King James Version (KJV) of Matthew 25: 19 renders a deeper meaning of accountability: “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.’’ Of particular interest is the term reckoneth (reckoned in modern English). The New Testament was originally written in Greek.

The term reckoned is derived from of two Greek words, sunairo and logos. Sunairo means to ‘make up together’ while logos can mean to reason and in some instances refers to a topic of discourse. Thus the term reckoned, translated to ‘settle accounts’ in the NKJV implies that the master in the parable reasoned with the servants in a deep discussion or debate around the servants’ performance reports. Put in another way, the master and the servant engaged in a focused conversation to ascertain the evidence that the servant’s work was ‘on form’ or as per form (agreed standards).

When you have a performance management system that is divorced from your reward system, you do not have a performance management system at all. There can be no accountability in an organisation if performance is not tied to rewards. In the parable, the master uses a pattern which can be summed up as ‘return and reward’. The master is said to have left for a ‘far country’ according to Matthew 25:14 (KJV). Metaphorically, leaving for a far country can be taken to mean the supervisor gives the supervisee space to exercise his/her talents with little or no undue interference.

However, the master did not go into a far country for good. He returned to hear the servants’ accounts of performance. Upon his return, the master weighed the evidence of performance supplied by the servants. This was immediately followed by rewards. Matthew 25:20 (KJV) makes this point clear: “His lord said unto him, ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter into the joy of thy lord.’’ Of critical importance is to note that the master used both monetary and non-monetary rewards. In the parable, the master effectively used recognition and a pay raise.

An effective performance management system uses both praise and raise. Equally, poor performers must be rewarded with candid feedback. In the parable, the master invoked the code of conduct to decisively deal with a troublesome non-performing employee.
Performance management competency works best within the context of other core leadership roles as shown in the parable.


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