Shredding Performance Culture


Tragic,terrible and absurd. That sums up the 2007 ICC World Cup with the death of Bob Woolmer, the elimination of the Proteas in the semi-finals and Australia having to replay Sri Lanka after winning the final match. There are lessons in the poor performance of the Proteas that parallel the conduct of management in some organisations. Promise the nation before the match that you are mentally prepared, massively confident and poised to win. National pride predictably soars. Then perform in such a humiliating fashion that we attack such confidence as being delusional. Finally, race to the bottom by denying selection issues and claim the campaign was not a failure. Maybe the cricket team should apply for management positions outside of the public glare.


I was rushing out of a Standard Bank branch for a client meeting when I scanned an imposing banner titled, “Standard Bank and the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act (FAIS)”

“As a licensed financial service provider, Standard Bank will always strive to serve and protect your best interests. This means ensuring that our people meet the requirements stipulated by law including the FAIS act to assist you with your financial requirements in a professional and ethical manner. “

Even though the sentiments around “protection”, “best interests” and “assistance” are ideal fodder for a cynical mind, I was going to   safely disregard it.

Until the next statement hit the optic nerve:

“Standard Bank motivates its staff on an ongoing basis through a variety of performance based incentives. “

Why would a bank that is purporting to protect my best interest and providing trained staff to assist me comply with onerous legislation, want to tell me that their staff receive an assortment of performance based incentives? What is mediocre or exceptional performance for staff to earn extra moolah? Why are there no performance incentive messages when I expect value from my bank – like the snake shaped queue line on the last day of the month and the bank employee that never returns calls? Too many unanswered questions.   


The next time you are worried that size matters in your business, visit Spoornet, the largest division within Transnet Limited. Thousands of employees are on the burning track to profitability. A notable Spoornet value is the commitment to be ‘performance driven’ The challenge is to separate the gravy train employees from those performance driven individuals. According to my sources, past restructurings have wrecked trust with management, promoted empire building, been a hit/miss affair on the ground and demotivated staff. The latest endeavour has been inviting employees to voluntarily apply for exit packages. Depending on whether the individual possesses critical skills, the application will be accepted or declined. Other employees will be subject to a series of competency tests. There are also rumours of placing employees in suitable positions based on the tests or (gasp)  retrenchments down the line. Few believe the former, many worried about the latter. And Spoornet is capping the employment bill with conversion to total cost packages. Come, on HR, where is the innovation and inspiration for the high performing individual to stay in this situation? 

Performance Press Releases

Finally, I want to mention the performance riders who will be taking up permanent residence in our lives. We were not waiting for you but will definitely notice when you climb into our wallets. The National Credit Act has ample provisions to strangle business involved in credit arrangements. E-mail your HR department an urgent note – “check whether

is registered as a credit provider to comply with the National Credit Act in respect of the loans to employees.”  The other rider comes with simplified tax returns for individuals while bringing to an end the extensions for submitting them. There maybe a glimmer of hope for the performance culture. 

(HR Future, June 2007)

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