(Broken) Promises of Performance Measurements 2

The ideals of the capitalist modernity served as normative grounding for uttering criticism. One value just as important as progress and competition and just as specifically modern I want to add in this part: the promise of democracy and equality. The principle of meritocracy (meaning that only individual performance decides over income – and not birth, family name, gender, etc. ), is the only legitimate means to distribute status within the modern society and therefore the core normative concept in modern societies.

But what does PM has to do with democracy? The measurement part of PM has been mainly discussed in terms of economic efficiency. What could possibly be great about the number crunching and the obsession with quantitative data when it comes to performance? What could you (or I) wholeheartedly agree on as a great value that is to be realized through the means of performance measurement? Next to (economic) growth here is an equally strong promise woven into the merit or performance principle and its measurement: Objectivity. As the merit principle promises equality and fairness, performance measurements promises the right realization of these values through objectivity. Numbers – that’s the idea, not to say that it factual reality – can not be fooled by your gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, age or class. The (promised) objectivity of quantified evaluations goes far beyond the economic ideal of effectiveness: it promises to guarantee equality. For numbers – apparently – only the ‘hard fact’ of how you perform count, judgement and evaluation become detached from single persons and their subjectivity and it is not the individual stereotypes of any arbitrary person who is deciding within an organization about status and forthcoming. I am not calling this a promise for no reason: It is a promise and it is – to some extent at least – a fiction, but still it is a strong promise, a strong dimension to base one’s own criticism upon when it comes to PM and it is a dimension I have missed so far in our blog about performance.

Just to be complete with this one I wish to share a criticism that aims at this particular (broken) promise. I wish to question the basic assumption that performance is a thing ‘out there’ – in society, the spheres of work and education, in organizations such as schools, businesses – and that it can be observed (and accordingly measured) objectively, meaning unaffected by the observer’s eye (respectively his devices of measurement). What performance is, what kind of human actions are considered worthwhile and what is made a measurable performance or what is made on the other hand an invisible performance (keyword: reproduction, the care for children and elderly) is product of the historical and institutional context and of course of social and political discussion and combat.

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