The Neverending List of "Buts"…

The “Buts” of Performance Management. This is one of my better puns. I know, that doesn’t say much for my other’s, yet I still think it’s pretty good. So I’ll stick with it at the risk of frustrating my readers for the next few minutes. Please bear with me.

One of the biggest challenges performance management professionals face is the neverending excuses that they hear from their internal clients. You’ve all heard them, “That’s interesting, …BUT we don’t track that information, …BUT that doesn’t apply to us,…BUT we’re too different,…BUT our culture just isn’t ready for something that radical, BUT… You get the picture.

About once a month, I’m asked by a client of mine who is being bombarded with these kind of BUT’s (or is that spelled with 2 “T’s”?- sorry I couldn’t resist!) how they should respond. So I figured now would be a good time to begin addressing this little dilemma, not by reacting to these “concerns” individually (perhaps I’ll do a series of columns on each concern at a later date), but rather by addressing what I believe is the root cause of most all of these concerns.

And that is that people inherently do not like change. It’s one of the oldest but persistent cancers in today’s business environment. Given the magnitude of change that has occurred, particularly over the last decade, it’s quite amazing how prevalent these arguments still are. But the fact is, people still resist change at every turn. Change goes against our most fundamental human desire to put “order” around “chaos”. And for many, “change” = “chaos”.

Tom Peters wrote a book in the late ’80’s called “Thriving on Chaos”. It was one of my all time favorite books, right up there in my personal top 10. Ironically, in that book, Tom was actually not advocating companies learn to live with chaos at all, but rather to view this apparent chaos in a different light. Successful companies, he concluded, were companies that learned to live in a perpetual state of change. To embrace it, not fight it. It is a principle that I believe crosses over into every aspect of business and life.

In fact, some of the most centered and serene people I know are those people who live with more change on a day to day basis that most of us could ever imagine living with. People who dealt with long term illnesses, death of young children, or countless other personal tragedies that would spiral many of us into the ultimate crisis state. But many of these people who have learned to deal with change effectively see these events as part of life’s plan. Some even view them as opportunities for personal growth. What we see as pain, they see as one of life’s major turning points. Maybe you’ve never seen one of these people in in action, but I have. When you see it, its not only one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever experience, but it will often put your own set of life changes into perspective instantly. Sorry to digress, but I think that little detour will be helpful in driving home the point.

Sometimes, it just comes down to a “glass half full” interpretation of things. For example, if your asked a question that involves collecting some performance data, and you don’t have it readily available, you have two courses of action. One, you could rationalize that its just too damned difficult to get and your not interested in getting it….so why not fight it. Essentially you’re saying, “that’d be interesting, BUT we don’t track that data, so we can’t go forward with this “. The other interpretation is “That’d be interesting, and while we don’t track that data now, maybe that should be telling us something! Maybe we should start tracking it!”. In fact, I’ve worked with many companies in which the PROCESS of gathering performance data they didn’t already track, actually created more insight than the purpose for which the data was ultimately needed. You see, with the latter interpretation, you get a 2-fer. You get value from the result, but you also get value (often MORE value) from the process of getting to the result.

Since most of you are on the receiving end of the “buts” (jeez, this is really getting bad), its not only a matter of changing your perspective, its also a matter of changing the perspective of your client’s. And while it may often appear to be a unattainable goal or un-winnable battle, it’s your persistence that will make the difference. Many performance managers will avoid such conflicts and accept a much slower pace of change than would otherwise be possible. But having gone down both paths, I’ve found that going ‘against the current’ more often than going with it, while almost always generating significant pain, will win you the culture you ultimately desire. In these cases, YOU are the catalyst for change. And in most cases, the culture will follow. Maybe not tomorrow, or next week, but it will follow.

One last thought on “buts” (last pun, I promise). I once received a very sage piece of advice, when a colleague suggested that every time I was inclined to say “BUT”, to replace it with the word AND. I wont go into all of his logic here, but I guarantee you, if you do this for a week of so, it will change your outlook significantly. I encourage you to use that little trick, as it can be rather infectious on both your staff and that of your internal customers


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at

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