For an organisation to be effective, to reach its goals, realise its strategies and satisfy its shareholders, it has to perform well. Performance is not the only word that industry has borrowed from the realm of the arts. Excellent performance in a company involves the achievement, or even exceeding of goals and targets.
Excellent performance is, literally, the performance of tasks, of processes and strategies to an exemplary level of quality. Performance in a business is about achieving quality. Performance can be seen as performing well in the eyes of an “audience” – customers, managers and other stakeholders.
To me, this already feels like a kind of abuse of the word. In the arts, performance is a gesture. When we perform for others, we offer our performance up to the audience of the piece of work. We hope that the performance will enrich, delight, create thoughtful reflection, excite a response and so on. A performance is excellent when there is a sharp intake of breath, a memorable quality, a wish to return, a sadness at ending, a silence, or an involuntary flood of tears or laughter or both.
Performance of a theatre piece lends itself readily to organisational settings because it is just that, a performance. Theatre can be an intervention that achieves a response in an audience, leading to reflection and, in turn, a consideration of changes to organisational performance. However, that change might be a decrease, not just an increased in the “measurables” of performance. And this is where the use if the sane word diverges. When an audience member sees a theatrical performance, their reaction is individual, in terms of self. When performance is experienced in a business or organisation, reaction to performance, judgement of what is good or bad performance is not always in terms of self, but may be defined hierachical, by ownership, by shareholder or by manager.
This would be like going to see a play, enjoying it, but forcing oneself to hate it because one’s boss doesn’t like that sort of thing!