Understanding performance measurement from a social systems perspective

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Performance measurement (PM) systems fail to predict organisational outcomes reliably because organisations face futures so inherently unknowable that it is impossible to comprehend the full range of potential outcomes open to them. Organisations are complex, adaptive, social systems whose distinctive activity is decision-making. They are heterogeneous entities whose capabilities, behaviours, and circumstances are unique, emerging from their histories and previous decisions. Organisational reality is a social construct delivered through practice. This thesis investigates whether considering PM from a social systems perspective improves PM's effectiveness. The argument made is organisations connect through social systems and operate through practice with people, processes, and their interactions fundamental to how they perform. A middle-range management theory is presented aimed at making organisations the best they can be with the resources available to them and in the economic circumstances they find themselves. It does this by understanding and reconfiguring the organisation's social system using a structured approach to optimise business processes and performance measures based on a combination of emergent behaviour and practice. Given the reality of radical uncertainty the focus is not on predicting outcomes but on uncovering the explanatory mechanisms behind events caused by specific managed improvement interventions. Understanding the behaviour of dynamically interacting components is done using realist evaluation based on social interactions, emergent powers and social intervention mechanisms. This approach changed behaviours and performance outcomes in case study organisations. The use of an 'inside-out' social systems perspective, coupled to critical realism with its focus on explanation, enabled the causal relationships of importance to be identified and the performance 'black box' to be opened up. This research contributes to closing the PMM theory-practice gap by proposing the performance focus needs to be on the social system rather than the measures, that is, on the 'means' rather than the 'ends'. It also offers a competing theoretical framework to organisational control theory for PMM, one grounded in social systems and practice theory. The social systems perspective is not considered specific to PM and potentially can be applied to all other business processes
Date of Award19 Sep 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorIan Whitfield (Supervisor) & Anup Nair (Supervisor)

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