Alasdair White’s Management Blog

In 1995, I wrote a management book entitled Managing for Performance, which went one to become a worldwide ‘best seller’ that was bought and read by managers and executives. The book was also closely linked to my core management development programme, The Performance Management Workshop, which was subsequently delivered in 19 countries to over 3400 participants. The ebook edition was published at the beginning of November 2011 by White & MacLean Publishing and can be bought from their website at or from Amazon (Kindle).

Managing for Performance and The Performance Management Workshop had their origins in the later 1980s when neoliberalism and the economic beliefs of Milton Friedman held sway, when Reaganomics and Thatcherism ruled the Anglo-Saxon world and the communist blocs were crumbling. It was a time when Friedman, the 1976 Nobel Laureate for Economics, and his fellow economists of the ‘Chicago School’ had successfully proselytized the world into believing that free markets, the minimal intervention of governments, and the pursuit of personal good (for which one can read ‘wealth’) was a desirable objective in all circumstances.

It was the time when Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) in the 1987 film “Wall Street” famously declared: “Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.” And he was believed, admired and emulated by thousands of bankers, traders and entrepreneurs across the world and by the early 1990’s, when I came to write Managing for Performance, neoliberalism had become the dominant economic paradigm of the world – from the Anglo-American heartlands of capitalism to the former communist bloc and all the way to the developing states.

Today, of course, neoliberalism has been discredited as the global economy, built on its principles, has been shaken to it core by the worst financial crisis in a hundred years – a crisis that has been blamed not only on the asset bubbles that were created, not only on the greed, materialism and the obsessive credit-driven consumerism, but also on the culture created by “Gekko-ism” gone mad.

In many ways, Managing for Performance was an attempt to bring a more collective and collaborative approach to the management of people at a time when individualism ruled and it was passionately believed that money motivated everyone. The 2007 financial collapse, the analysis of the toxic cultures of the big banks (such as Lehman Brothers – the bank that started the domino collapse of the world’s banking system), and the continuing legacy of a theory that was pushed beyond a state of viability is still too close and many companies and their managers are still in the thrall of the “Gekko-ism”, the individualism, the profit-driven management styles and the toxic cultures of the last twenty years.

When I was approached with the idea of re-issuing Managing for Performance, the initial discussions focused on updating the book for the 21st century. I soon realised that it would be far easier to write a completely new book on the subject but, upon reflection, I also realised that the ideas and techniques that had made Managing for Performance an international best-seller fifteen years ago were still absolutely valid today – only the context has changed.

The corporate and organizational cultures in which we work are now much better understood thanks to the work of people like Hofstede, Tromenaars, Deal and Kennedy, Bartlett et al, Schneider and Barsoux and many other researchers who have dissected, analysed, synthesised and generally exposed national and transnational organizations to examination and have offered theories and guidance as to how to manage within them. One thing is now very clear to all managers: organizations reflect their national culture as modified by the culture of the people who work there. This means they have to select and apply those management techniques that work best with the people they are managing.

But isn’t that exactly what all managers have to do at all times and in all circumstances? Of course it is, and that is why the performance management techniques in Managing for Performance are as applicable today as they were when the book was written.

Would I change anything if I were to update the book? Well, yes – I would want to expand some sections (such as motivation) to reflect the latest research in the field and I would want to include sections on collaborative working, virtual teams (and virtual organizations) and managing in a networked world as they all place new emphasis on developing new performance management skills. I would also want to explore the current obsession with the idea that performance management is a technology-based activity (it isn’t, of course, it is about managing people: technology-based performance management applications are for monitoring purposes only).

Managing for Performance presents a number of timeless management skills that have proven to drive performance in organizational environments as diverse as US banking, Japanese engineering, African mining, volunteer charities, Middle Eastern oil production, health care and European luxury goods – used wisely and with a strong focus on managing people, these techniques will ensure that performance will follow no matter where you work or in which sector.

This blog is closely based on the new introduction written for the ebook edition of Managing for Performance.