Rudo Grace Gwata Charamba Correspondent
Significant efforts at introducing results management in national and international organisations in both the public and private sectors are recorded in literature where results-related systems have been put in place and there is considerable activity and discussion on “results”.
However, reviews of the related RBM regimes have concluded that results management often tends to be an administrative chore without any utility. This shortcoming is mainly attributed to the absence of an evaluative or results culture which is essential for the adequate exploitation of the utility of such results systems.
Literature shows that the development of an evaluative culture is a prerequisite for the effective adoption and implementation of a Results Based Management (RBM) approach. In fact, a weak evaluative culture undermines attempts at building an effective results management regime as results systems are regarded as a distraction from performing core functions and, therefore, rarely used.
Organisational culture, a permanent feature of every entity, is simply the way members of the organisation think and act. It conveys a sense of identity to members and provides unwritten and, often, unspoken guidelines regarding how the organisation operates and is reflected by what is valued, the dominant leadership styles, symbols, procedures, routines as well as the definition of success.
An evaluative culture, in the context of RBM, emphasises the use of experiential evidence relating to results (outputs and outcomes) that it seeks to achieve for informing management decision-making. It helps to create an environment which consistently promotes high levels performance and the attainment of goals.
The focus, within such a culture, goes beyond planned outputs to fostering a culture of inquiry about progress, through the delivery of such outputs, towards improvement and the achievement of targeted results. Consequently, empirical evidence on the results (outputs and outcomes) to be achieved is valued highly. Terms, including a culture of results, a results culture, a culture of performance, an evaluation culture or a culture of inquiry, all refer to this same culture.
Key to an evaluative culture is the routine use of information, on results, to learn from past experience, inform decision-making on planning for results as well as improved design and delivery of programmes. Such decision on design and delivery is thus based on a combination of credible empirical information on relevant past experience and a clear statement of what results will be accomplished if decisions are taken.
During project execution, individuals and units engage in self-reflection and examination of performance, deliberately seeking evidence on the progress towards or the achievement of targeted results regardless of whether or not the short-term objectives are achieved. During this process, candour and honest dialogue are significantly valued and the information derived is effectively used to challenge as well as support what the organisation is doing.
Accordingly, implementers become willing and able to provide such evaluative evidence which is used for recording best practices, learning and making the necessary adjustments to facilitate improvement in the implementation and performance of projects and, consequently, improvement in livelihoods.
Additionally, the organisation engages in evidence-based learning which entails making time for structured learning, from both success and weak performance, where information and knowledge sharing as well as experimentation and change are strongly encouraged. In the same context, deliberate risk taking and seeking new ways of doing business are also supported.
Information on results also guides the design of supportive systems that include a results-oriented accountability systems, incentives, procedures, and practices, clear roles and responsibilities for the targeted changes (results) as well as the capacity to learn and adapt. In essence, stakeholders learn from performance information on results and continuously focus on improvement on the implementation processes as well as improvement in their lives.
On the contrary, in an organisation where a weak evaluative culture exists, information on results is ordinarily gathered but its usage is limited mostly to external reporting. Challenging and questioning the status quo is also discouraged although empirical evidence is seemingly sought. Besides, the importance of achieving results is talked about but, rather adherence to rules and regulations is more valued. Similarly, the need to learn is acknowledged but without provision of the necessary time or structured opportunities for such learning.
Building and sustaining a an evaluative entails the establishment of a set of desired values and behaviors, making the necessary effort to institutionalise these desired elements while precluding those determined to be undesirable. Several factors that influence this process are identified in literature with senior management leadership and commitment in building and sustaining an evaluative culture regarded as most important. Such leadership and commitment determines, to a large extent, the structures, practices and actions in an organisation and is demonstrated through support of the results management regime.
The related actions relating to such support include demonstration of behaviour that is consistent with an evaluative culture from senior management and the leadership notably consistent reference to the benefits of using evidence (walking the talk).
The selection of Results Based initiatives such as 100-day projects, allocation of adequate resources, regular demand for information on results, as well as active participation in the development of results frameworks are typical examples of such behaviour.
In addition, there is regular informed demand for results information, from the top, as well as provision of ample resources for both programme implementation and building capacity for results management. Reasonable but challenging targets are jointly set, during the planning phase, and implementation progresses gradually with the leadership overseeing key aspects that include monitoring and reporting on results as well as results-informed learning.
Also, the leadership ensures that results frameworks for the organisation as well as for programmes and policies are collectively agreed upon and used consistently for learning and improvement. Throughout the processes, there are consistent efforts to balance the levels of responsibility and accountability with performance measurement regarded as a tool for learning and improvement rather measure to scrutinise staff performance.
Apart from senior management behaviour and leadership style, organisational support structures including incentives, systems, practices and procedures, also significantly define the culture of an organisation. For purposes of fostering an evaluative culture, the provision of appropriate formal and informal incentives and, at the same time, the identification and removal of any disincentives that inhibit the building of such culture is often regarded as more important than capacity issues. Individuals and units are allowed to deliberately plan for results, monitor their performance and adjust accordingly, in line with empirical-based learning.
Ultimately, evidence of such learning and improvement is rewarded rather than rewarding individuals and units for merely meeting targets. However, incentives should be introduced with caution to avoid the perception of a transactional style of leadership where people expect rewards for all their actions or performance.
Other effective strategies for fostering a strong evaluative culture include the provision of clear and effective guidance, consistent spelling out of the benefits of RBM, the alignment of all systems, practices and procedures with the culture of results while RBM issues are integrated into all organizational processes. That is, emphasis is placed on continuously seeking evidence on performance rather than on adherence to systems and procedures.
Both literature and empirical evidence show that such an evaluative culture was missing in Zimbabwe as evidenced by unwillingness to learn which, in the past, resulted in several incessant development programme failures poor work ethics that include a general lack of focus and commitment, in sharp contrast to the commitment and focus demonstrated by the President.
Also, key stakeholders in many organisations tend to concentrate on internal squabbles rather than productivity, learning, improvement and high performance. Furthermore, individuals and groups demonstrate high levels of resistance to change and therefore unwilling to change the existing weak evaluative culture.
This is in line with literature which shows that the concepts of accountability, learning and improvement are often unpopular in most organisations worldwide. However, deliberate efforts can be made to build the necessary capacity for learning and also ensure the acceptance of the concept. Such efforts encompass identifying and developing RBM champions at various levels within the organisation, creating time for learning as well as promoting structures for information and knowledge sharing.
In addition, management and staff can be encouraged to foster learning from experience through developing, testing and introducing their own methods and tools that promote organisational learning. Creating and sustaining an evaluative culture can help to address these challenges as stakeholders ordinarily gain the capacity to learn, improve and also embrace accountability towards one another and also towards the organisation.
Dr Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba is a Project/Programme Management Consultant and Researcher with a special interest in Results Based Management (RBM). She can be contacted via email: email@example.com