The dance of compliance: performance management in Australian universities

Stavretis, L 2007, The dance of compliance: performance management in Australian universities, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Management, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title The dance of compliance: performance management in Australian universities
Author(s) Stavretis, L
Year 2007
Abstract This qualitative study identified the formal and informal performance management (PM) practices in use in Australian public universities for academic staff Levels A, B and C. It asked the following research questions.
• What PM practices are currently in use in these universities?
• What are the similarities in approach and what issues does PM raise?
• How do academic staff who take part in these practices (as either staff or management) experience them?
• What cultural and contextual factors (if any) contribute to this experience?
• What are the perceived effects of these practices on the performance of individuals, teams and the organisation?
• Which system elements do academic staff and academic managers perceive to be most effective in academic cultures and why?

The context of substantive change within Australian universities was outlined and literature pertaining to the field of PM in general, and in educational organisations in particular, was explored. The existence, structure, purposes and other factual details of formal PM systems were identified, although the study focused on the opinions, perceptions and attitudes of the respondents.

Findings suggested that current PM practice in Australian public universities did little to meet the needs of any of the key stakeholders and remained fundamentally unsatisfying to all concerned. Furthermore, the failure to clearly articulate the purposes and to consider the implementation and ongoing costs of a formal PM system typically resulted in widespread cynicism and a ritual dance of compliance that demonstrated palpably low engagement with systems.

Formal PM systems helped to clarify objectives and workload allocation for some staff, but were found to be poorly linked to organisational planning processes, poor at differentiating levels of performance, not valued by academic staff as a vehicle for meaningful feedback, failing to follow through on development outcomes and thus did little to build team, individual or organisational capability.

Study recommendations suggested that developmental models of PM were more appropriate and acceptable in academia and that considerable work would be required to incorporate evaluative links such as performance-related pay successfully. More rigorous evaluation, consultation processes regarding user preferences, piloting of PM systems prior to full implementation, and dedicated resources for the PM function and its outcomes (such as staff development), would be required as a part of a comprehensive change management strategy to overcome historical resistance.

A thorough capability analysis of the people management skills for Heads of School and above was seen as a priority, given that feedback skill and the management of under-performance were consistently identified as problematic. The costs of under-performance warranted this expenditure.

A national evaluation study of PM practice in higher education was recommended to assess the real outcomes, costs and benefits and determine whether continued investment in PM systems was actually merited. Alternative models and approaches such as modular PM systems for the different stages of an academic career, promotion portfolios, reflective practice or peer learning groups were suggested as potentially more successful in enhancing the accountability and performance of academic staff than mandated hierarchical PM.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Management
Keyword(s) Performance appraisal
performance management
performance management systems
Australian universities
Academic staff
Human resource management.
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Created: Wed, 16 Feb 2011, 12:53:29 EST
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