Viewpoint: We are all performance chasers now

The times when an appraisal meant a nice chat over lunch are gone; it's all business now.

We live in a target-driven age. Nothing has a value unless it can be judged against previously agreed performance indicators, and no one deserves a pat on the back unless they've met their goals and set the coloured lights flashing. Except, that is, trustees.

I've just had a week of appraising. First there was the head of my children's state primary school, where I am a governor.


The head deals with the staff and their newly-decreed-from-on-high 'performance development goals'. And then we, the governors, deal with him. Luckily, he's a star, the sort whose lifetime of sleeves-rolled-up dedication to education is a reassuring counterbalance in an epoch of private-equity millionaires.

Immediately after that, I had to appraise the chief executive of my charity, Aspire, on behalf of the trustees. Almost two decades ago, when I ended up as chairman by accident (all the suitable candidates - mature business types with gravitas and grey hair - had squabbled and ruled each other out, leaving only me), I used to fit the chief executive's appraisal around lunch with her and a chat about burgeoning office romances. And the charity grew and grew, so it can't have been all that wrong.

Now, however, it is a regimented business, a time for plain talking, scientific evaluation and pinpointing priorities as yardsticks for the year ahead.

Again, I'm very fortunate. Our chief executive is a good man doing a better-than-good job. So no real conflict. But because the appraisal process is so formal, you feel you have to scramble around to find some negatives to add to the long list of positives that you record in a file that the charity commissioners would approve of. Good governance and all that.

Grossly unfair

But it is a bit of a one-way street. At least school governors are now also inspected by Ofsted, the education regulator, on their management of the headteachers, and can fail. But trustees are not appraised. Grossly unfair, I decided.

In the course of my nit-picking to find something to put down on my chief executive's coming year's 'areas for improvement list', I realised that too often the fault lay not with him but with the trustees and - whisper it quietly - with me.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, chairman of Aspire and director of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust.

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