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Rethinking Performance Management - Part 2

11 May 2018

***This is part 2 in a series of blogs coauthored with Helen Sanderson***

In our previous blog we described how Confirmation Practices offer an alternative to conventional performance management; one that dissolves common problems and helps to create responsible, flexible and innovative practice. Today’s blog sets out two rules of thumb that can help you to set up your own Confirmation Practices so that they are effective.

Devising A Confirmation Practice

Confirmation Practices consist of statements that describe what would be true if everything were working well. Before getting to those statements though, it is essential to first be clear about purpose and value.

A common trap to fall into is to describe activities or received wisdoms. For example, in Wellbeing Teams it could be tempting to arrive at statements such as:

“Every new individual referred to us has a timely Initial Conversation”; or

“Everyone we support has an up-to-date Care Plan”

For each of these statements though, it’s entirely possible for them to be true and for nothing of value to have occurred. Was it a good Initial Conversation? If so, in what ways? How did it advance us towards delivering our purpose? Is the Care Plan useful? What essential role does it play in providing great support and how do we know it is playing this role in practice?

Compare the statements above to a statement such as:

“We are always effective at understanding the needs and strengths of those we support”

Statements like this provoke healthy uncertainty. They invite people to surface what they are not sure about just as readily as they invite people to celebrate what’s working. Most importantly though, they fit to requirements of Rule 1…


Confirmation statements describe the essential characteristics of purpose and value (i.e. what would be true in practice if those were being delivered).


Rule 2 builds on this by asking us to check whether the statements we create are necessary and sufficient to capture all of the essential characteristics.

  • Necessary: it is impossible for us to meet our purpose and have any statement be FALSE.
  • Sufficient: it is impossible for us to fail our purpose and have all statements be TRUE.

There is an art to applying Rule 2 well. It usually takes a series of iterations to get from a long list of diverse statements to a short list of punchy and memorable ones. However,  this is a valuable part of the process of shared sense-making. It’s a perfect opportunity for people to engage with and take ownership of their statements, setting up the right dynamic from the start where they see the statements as being their articulation of what they have understood success to look like and not a specification for them to comply with. This ensures that they remain an open question, capable of being changed and improved as people sense and respond together to discover new learning or to meet changing circumstances.

Applied well, Rule 2 will see people generate succinct ways of describing and discussing their performance, helping them to see through the fog of everything that could be managed to the few points of focus that will help them to make the biggest difference.

An Example

Medical Diagnostics (sometimes know as Pathology) is complex. Work exists across boundaries between clinical practice - where decisions to test and treat patients are made - and lab medicine - where samples clinicians submit are tested and results collated then issued. Despite this complexity, it is still possible to zero in on what really matters through a few simple statements, such as:

  • Requests for pathology:
    • are necessary
    • a consequence of informed choice
    • ask a clear clinical question
    • arrive with a valid sample
  • Tests are processed within known variation
  • Results are reported:
    • on time to enable optimal care
    • in a format that makes informed decision making easy

Statements like these help people to filter out noise and distraction to focus on the key levers for improvement. Acting on those levers addresses the underlying health of an organisation’s ways of working in a manner that results or compliance focused performance management simply can’t replicate. It draws attention onto the most material factors that shape performance and says ‘focus here’ instead of reporting performance symptoms and screaming ‘make the numbers’.

In Helen's Wellbeing Teams

Helen writes...

"The Gallup Organisation conducted research with over 80,000 managers across different industries, to discover what it took to attain, keep and measure employee satisfaction. They reported their findings in the book ‘First Break All the Rules’, and boiled their findings down to 12 simple questions. One of these questions is:

“In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?”

We promise Wellbeing Workers that they will get feedback, and this is built into the role of the team Coach. Therefore one of the Confirmation Practice questions is for the Team Coach to reflect on how confident she is that each person received recognition or praise over the last week.

Michelle, our Team Coach, says that in the first few months of supporting the first Wellbeing Team, there was so much to juggle and pay attention to, that it was easy to assume that this was happening – or at least to hope that it was. By introducing this as one of the Confirmation Practice questions, it helped her focus on the importance of this in her role, and rather than hoping it was happening, to make sure she had strategies in place to make sure that it was.

Doing the Confirmation Practices also helped us realise that, although giving feedback is central to Michelle’s role, we were asking her to take on more work with the induction of a new team, as well as supporting our first team to complete their probation. It helped us to realise that we needed to review this and find solutions together, making it easier for Michelle to pull in the support she needed and for us to collectively recognise the importance of providing that support."

Next Time

In our next blog we will describe some useful tactics for getting the most out of Confirmation Practices, including how they can dovetail with coaching to create organisational assurance.


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