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Monday, August 18, 2008

Performance Contracts

Fear of performance contracts: Life is one long evaluation

Words by Francis Kahihu

There has been a lot of hue and cry reported in the media about the signing of performance contracts by the teaching fraternity. The Union representing the thousands of teachers has advised them to shun the idea of signing the performance contracts. Some of the reasons given allude to the fear that many persons have regarding the performance contracts. Most of these fears have been derived from the abuse or possible abuse of the system by persons in authority. As true as this may be, the performance contracts are great tools that have been used the world over the measure the performance of the human resource in both the private and the public sector.

Since our young age, we have been put under performance contracts only that they may not have been referred to as such. Remember the expectations that our parents had on us when we were in school. They set the targets early enough by the time we started a new term and told us to ensure we are at least five places ahead come the following examinations. With this, we worked extra hard to ensure that we met the set target so that we can both satisfy the parents demands and also gain a pre- agreed award which could either be a visit to City Park or Chapati feast specifically prepared for us. The motivation was great.

As alluded from the illustrations above, performance contracts are mainly agreements between the employer and the employee that within the given time frame, the employee is expected to achieve certain agreed targets. In the ideal set up, the employer and the employee sit and agree on the targets to be met. The employee indicates the necessary support that would be helpful in meeting the targets. This is then an understanding of what needs to be done and how it can be achieved.

In performance contracting, the employer seeks to inform all the employees the entire target of the company or institution. The goal is then split into smaller and manageable objectives that the various employees divide among themselves. The management of the institution then organises how each of the players contributes to meeting the bigger goal. Eventually, the aim is to ensure that the entire institution meets targets that would either have been given by a higher body, or would have been self imposed in response to competition defined either internally or externally.

It has been said that failure to plan is planning to fail. It is therefore prudent to consider the goal that you want to achieve every time to set out to work on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. Is you work without any specified target, the truth is that you will never realize when you hit the mark. Setting a mark for yourself ensures you strive towards achieving it hence the prospects of performance contracting should be understood from the positive perspective. It helps us know where we are going and by when we want to get there. It is quite possible to be busy undertaking activities every other year with little or no progress. We need a tool to help us know where we are and where we went top be at a certain point in time.

I bear in mind the fact that many employees have fallen victim to the abuse of the performance contracting system. The system presupposes the need for an evaluation at the end of the term specified to check on the level of attainment of the set out goals. Performance appraisals have been set aside in certain institutions as the ideal moments for settling scores incurred during the implementation period. It has been used as a conduit for corruption where employees were threatened with poor grades should they be unwilling to part with certain conditions. Ladies have especially found this tough since it has especially served to entrench the practice of sexual exploitation since they have to part with sexual favors to access favorable performance grades. This experience has made many persons unwilling to accept the concept as good as it may be.

The other challenge with performance contracting is the capacity of the contracting officers to objectively set targets and measure performance. Most of the staff assigned the responsibility of setting and evaluating performance targets are never trained on the aspects of performance monitoring. In this case, they are unable to objectively measure the performance of the staff. They are not competent in understand how to factor in external influences on the performance of the staff, and more importantly, they fail to realize the interconnectedness among the various departments. In a school scenario for instance, failure by the Board and the Management may negatively affect the performance of the classroom teacher yet this interconnectedness is rarely factored in the evaluation.

By and large, performance contracting is a helpful approach to use, not just at the work place but also in other sectors of our lives. Families for instance want to know whether they are making progress in certain areas and so do other social assemblies including religious institutions. Performance contracting is hence not just a corporate concept but would be helpful to us in all aspects of life.