Performance Management in UK Higher Education Institutions: The need for a hybrid approach
Dr Monica Franco-Santos and Professor Mike Bourne
Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield University
Dr Pilar Rivera
University of Zaragoza
Summary Report, January 2014
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Within higher education, and particularly universities, the understanding of performance management at organisation, team and individual level remains a sustained challenge. For the human resources professional the challenge partly lies in that the "text book" answers to performance management in our sector do not lead to the required behaviour in individuals, and the required behaviour does not in turn lead to the expected performance. At institution and group level the challenge is that our culture often develops "bottom up" and not "top down" and is a product of the need to contribute to the "creation of knowledge".
Our challenge is one of understanding that the concept of individual goals combining to form team and ultimately organisational objectives is only in part true within higher education. Institutions may aspire to ensure increased overlap between individual performance and organisational goals, but the reality is that this becomes more difficult in environments where complex, often conflicting goals, are being driven through complex governance structures with a multitude of measures. This study by the Cranfield School of Management begins to make real inroads in understanding the concept of the agency-based and stewardshipbased models of performance management and how the latter, more "enabling" approach begins to provide an understanding of performance management approaches in such structures.
The findings and subsequent insights will be of key interest to leaders and managers in institutions, policy makers and human resources and finance professionals, who might often be supporting development of balanced scorecards to achieve organisational performance. Its use of concepts and theory together with the qualitative research is a significant addition to the knowledge we have on the levers which could maximise performance within our own institutions.
Human Resources Director, University of Cambridge
Leadership Foundation Board Member
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This research investigates current practice and trends in the institutional performance management of UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
We adopt a holistic view of institutional performance management - we understand it as a package or a system of the formal and informal mechanisms an institution uses to facilitate the delivery of its mission. Individual performance development reviews or appraisals are just one small component of an institutional performance management system.
- Traditionally, HEIs have seen themselves as stewards of knowledge and education, focusing on long-term scholarly goals comprising the development of knowledge and the greater good for society at large.
- This view of HEIs is changing, as they are currently becoming more short-term and results/outputs driven due to the increased pressures to perform (e.g., international competition, reduced financial resources, research assessment frameworks, rankings).
- HEIs are intensifying their use of performance management mechanisms at all levels to facilitate the delivery of their goals.
- Nevertheless, we know little about the type of performance management mechanisms used in UK HEIs and the influence these mechanisms have on the wellbeing of staff and the performance of HEIs as a whole. This research was designed to address these gaps in our knowledge.
- We used case studies to look at the performance management mechanisms in six universities. Three Russell Group and three post-1992 universities were involved and the research focused on both academic and administrative staff. This included interviewing 110 key informants from across institutions, from vice chancellors to front line staff in central services and in four schools/faculties (Education, Math, Business & Management, and Art).
- We also surveyed staff working in 162 UK HEIs through an online survey obtaining over 1000 usable responses. The results from the survey were combined with other publicly available data, from the National Student Satisfaction survey, the last Research Assessment Exercise, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), and the Universities and College Union’s (UCU) academic staff wellbeing survey.
- The performance management mechanisms UK HEIs use can be classified into two categories: stewardship-based and agency-based.
- Stewardship approaches focus on long-term outcomes through people’s knowledge and values, autonomy and sharedleadership within a high trust environment.
- Agency approaches focus on short-term results or outputs through greater monitoring and control.
- Most UK HEIs adopt a combination of stewardship and agency performance management mechanisms but most institutions are moving towards an increased adoption and greater use of agency mechanisms.
- Institutions with a mission that is focused on long-term and highly complex goals, which are difficult or very costly to measure (e.g., research excellence, contribution to society) are likely to benefit from relying on stewardship performance management mechanisms to convey their mission.
- Institutions with a mission that is focused on short-term and low complex goals, which are often easy or economical to measure (e.g., cost-reduction, surplus maximization) are likely to benefit from relying on agency performance management mechanisms to convey their mission.
- Institutions with a diverse mission including goals with various degrees of complexity and time orientation will benefit from relying on a hybrid performance management approach.
- Most people in professional, administrative and support roles find agency performance management mechanisms helpful as they provide greater clarity and focus.
- Most people in academic roles find agency performance management mechanisms such as individual performance reviews as unhelpful and dysfunctional.
- Institutions’ use of stewardship mechanisms is associated with higher levels of staff wellbeing as well as higher student satisfaction. Institutions’ use of agency mechanisms is associated with lower levels of staff wellbeing as well as lower levels of institutional research excellence.
- High staff wellbeing is associated with higher HEI’s research excellence, students’ satisfaction, students’ employability, and financial results.
The report suggests that there is not a ‘once size fits all’ performance management approach for all institution and for all staff.
Institutions need to adopt and use those performance management mechanisms that are ‘fit for purpose’. The current missions
of HEIs are highly diverse comprising long-term outcomes as well as short-term results/outputs. The roles in their own context
required for delivering the different HEIs missions require the co-existence of both stewardship and agency mechanisms. Thus the
challenge for UK HEIs is to craft a hybrid performance management approach that will allow them to deliver across the breadth
of their mission
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