THE critical question that animates discussion in regard to the discourse of performance and productivity in higher educational institutions is to what extent the culture of performance assessment — itself a result of an all-pervasive audit culture — acts to dissipate and diminish forms of social capital such as inter-subjective trust, cooperative values, honesty, integrity and inclusiveness.
Does Key Performance Index (KPI) culture crowd out “other regarding” values (forms of social capital) such as collaboration and teamwork within an institution because of the implicit values of individualism and competition that characterise the way our identities as academics are influenced and constructed by the culture?
Scholars such as Frey and Jegen argue that in many cases the reduction of motivation to extrinsic rewards (in our case KPI), may lead to a diminution and crowding out of intrinsic motivation. (See Frey, Bruno S. and Reto Jegen, 2001, Motivational Interactions: Effects on Behaviour, pages 1-32. Zurich: University of Zurich, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics.)
One critical issue in respect of the introduction of KPI frameworks in tertiary education is the extent to which these frameworks act to erode values in higher educational institutions that are not individualistically competitive.
To what extent does KPI culture radically transform and challenge the motivations academics have? To what extent are the identities that many academics have of themselves — as scholars committed to the pursuit of truth as a value rewarding in itself or as engaged academics pursuing social justice — undermined by a competitive extrinsic KPI rewards culture?
The key here is that non-pecuniary and intr insic motives are critical to understand in the context of comprehending a large part of academic behaviour and performance.
The extent to which performance cultures gel with non-instrumental and non-economic motivations in academic staff is critical to understanding the success of universities and, equally importantly, their cohesion as social institutions.
“Other regarding” social capital and values of reciprocity, and caring are critical for institutions of higher learning both in terms of ensuring a social environment that is conducive to intellectual productivity and also in ensuring the social cohesion of the organisations themselves.
Tertiary institutions rely on social capital for their productivity, identity and internal social cohesion.
Drawing upon this insight in regard to social capital and intrinsic motivation seems increasingly significant given the need for higher educational institutions to both innovate and provide values leadership for their respective societies.
The significance of positive social capital to organisational performance and the performance of individuals within institutions is now well established in contemporary research literature.
Given the importance of social capital to innovation, cohesion and academic identity; performance indicator culture, if followed crudely and without reference to a deeper understanding of human motivation, can act to crowd out forms of “other regarding” social capital and inadvertently reduce the possible sources of motivation in univer sities.
We have to be aware that extrinsic rewards or financial incentives for performance may have a crowding out effect on other intrinsically important forms of motivation.
A significant cohort of people in higher educational institutions is motivated to action and productive innovation for intrinsic reasons which are not necessarily finding a place under the sun in current KPI culture.
Academic identity itself has historically possessed moral and intangible character istics.
These norms and the culture of the academy, which have sustained hard work and creativity, are central to why many academics became academics in the first place.
What if an unintended consequence of KPI motivational structures is to crowd out “other regarding” social capital and intrinsic motivations and both undermine innovation and contravene the deeply held beliefs, identities and values of many academics?
What if it leads to large scale dissent and a breakdown of cohesion within the academy? The problem here is not performance indictors as such although some critics do see the problem lying at the root.
Rather the issue is the depth of sophistication and understanding that goes into building and assessing perfor mance.
Grasping the significance of intangibles to performance in higher education and realising the critical importance of social capital and “other regarding” values is a first step.
Recognising the critical function of intrinsic values is fundamental.
Osterloh and Frey make a key point: “…it is difficult to think of a leading scientist who was not mainly, and sometimes entirely, motivated by his or her curiosity.
Just consider the greatest natural scientists of the world, such as Newton or Einstein, or the greatest social scientists, such as Schumpeter or Keynes.
“The problem is that the intrinsic interest in doing research is crowded out when academics are evaluated based on extrinsic rewards that are contingent on indicator s.” (See Margit Osterloh, Bruno S.Frey, Are More and Better Indicators the Solution? Scandinavian Journal of Management (2009) 25, page 226.)
Two critical questions confront us when we consider the problems of key performance indicators.
Firstly, to what extent is performance reliant on non-tangible forms of social capital: “other regarding” values and intrinsic motivation?
Secondly, to what extent does the current culture of KPI’s crowd out forms of social capital and intrinsic motivation in universities?
An awareness of the role that intangible values and forms of social capital have on work and performance is critical to under stand.
Addressing the possibility that KPI systems in organisations can possibly crowd out intangible forms of motivation such as “other regarding” behaviour, civic motivations, altruism, group solidarity or simply personal passion and curiosity is important to grasp.
We need to understand both tangible and intangible motivations for performance. Both are necessary for innovation and cohesion within the academy? Perhaps we should read headlines in regard to higher education with this in mind.
The writer is a Lecturer in Education in Australia and author of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Sustainability and the Struggle for A Vital Centre in Education, Penerbit USM 2011. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
By James Campbell 2011/09/17
Source: The NST Home Learning Curve 2011/09/17