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Homepage / Are we using old fashioned methods to measure performance?

Are we using old fashioned methods to measure performance?



Does it matter? Would you like to explore what new methods should look like?

In his “Principles of Scientific Management” written in 1909, Frederick Taylor proposed the idea of standardising methods and enforcing their use. This led inevitably to the establishment of performance standards and of mechanisms for measuring them.   

Now the world was very different in 1909.  Plastic had just been invented (1907).  Imagine a world without plastic! A manual worker earned 23 shillings a week, a dozen eggs cost a shilling, and a pint of beer round about 2d[1]. Compare this with the world 110 years later. We’re trying desperately to rid the world of waste plastics; the average worker in the UK earns more than £500 per week; a dozen free range eggs costs about £1.90 and a pint of beer varies enormously from just over £2.00 to just over £5.00. So, should you wish (and ignoring tax) you would be able to buy more than 270 dozen eggs (rather than 23 as in 1909) and just to show that not everything has changed even at the higher cost you could slake your thirst with more than 100 pints of beer each week as you could in 1909.

But it’s not all about money. A report from the TUC reveals that 1.5m people work from home and new technologies enable flexible working from nearly any location. The relationship between employees and employers has also changed. The workforce is more educated – a very good advance as an educated workforce is more adaptable and better able to cope with the rapid change that is occurring, partly as a result of new technology.   Employees expect a greater say in what they are doing; they are looking for job satisfaction and no-one expects to work with the same employer for the whole of their life. The list of changes goes on……

What does this have to do with performance measurement?  Are organisations adapting their processes to meet needs of the current business environment and the expectations of today’s employees? Or is there still more than a little of the Taylor idea of standardising working methods and measuring peoples’ performance against those standards? How should we be measuring individual performance (if at all) now the contract between employer and employee has changed? Should we focus more on overall organisational performance? What works in different contexts and what doesn’t?

We are inviting a small number of organisations from a variety of sectors and sizes to join us in establishing emerging practice with the intention of creating new insights into the use of performance measurement in the direction of organisations. We’re calling this our “Performance Project”. Through a series of round table discussions held under Chatham House Rules people will contribute their ideas and in return learn about the latest research and developments in the field. 

To launch our Performance Project we are holding an event during which we will investigate current issues and different approaches to performance.  We would like to invite you to attend.  It is free of charge and there is no commitment to join the Performance Project itself but it will give you a taste of what we are about to do.  If you’d like to know more, take a look at:  http://


Pippa Bourne

Written By: Cranfield University

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