Tag Archives: manage performance

All that jazz about performance


Classical western music is a complex and rich tradition that relies on:

fixed scales and written compositions

 reproduced by performers who have practised for hours to produce a particular sound.

Large organisations often manage individual performance in a similar way:   

  • Each person is assigned an instrument and given a score to play.


  • The conductor’s/boss’s role is to ensure each player hits the right notes in the right way at the right time.jazz2 - conductor_Page_1 The  same piece is played in the same key every time. Variation is bad – we keep to the score the composer wrote.

Smaller organisations are more nimble:

Created by entrepreneurial bosses who were not happy to play the corporate/classical part they were given, the boss expects their team to know which instruments they are to play and what they should sound like.   Jazz musicians work in a similar way.

  • Each player knows the key the group will play in and knows the rules of jazz.
  • What the players don’t have is a fixed score or a fixed order to play the notes in.

To an outsider jazz can seem like a free for all where anything can happen.  To a jazz musician, jazz is an open system of fundamentals designed to allow the musicians to improvise without losing their way. Each performance is different and each musician changes the sound by the way they play. But it is always jazz.

jazz3Some people are solo artists. They cannot play with an orchestra or a group of jazz musicians. They can only do what they do their way. The group can accompany them as backing musicians and follow their lead, or the solo artist will not play. Many technical experts are solo artists at heart. They want their song played their way according to their definition of excellence.

A lot of the talk around performance management  in business ignores the fact there is no one-size-fits-all solution.   HR people act as if the classical tradition is the only one.

If you feel your organisation is a little more jazz than classical talk to us about creating contracts and handbooks that allow you to improvise around your fundamentals without pinning you down – click here.

If your organisation is full of soloists, you are probably employing lots of freelancers (or people who think they are) – click here.  If they really are your employees but still going their own way – talk to us about ways to bring them back to the fundamentals you require.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on Twitter


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Filed under contract, employment law, performance management