Performance management and the production of subjectivity: a linguistic ethnography
This study is a linguistic ethnography of performance management at a university language centre. The term 'performance management' is used here to define any organisational process designed to measure and/or improve staff performance, and is often realised through a system of meetings and forms. As such it is amenable to ethnographic-based discourse analysis to illuminate connections between the discourse practices of the performance management system, and the broader institutional order in which it is located. In this study 13 performance management meetings were audio- or video-recorded over the course of a year, along with post-meeting interviews with participants. Documentation from the meetings was also collected and analysed. In addition, 9 interviews with staff on a range of employment contracts were conducted, and field notes taken over the course of 18 months. This data collection was conducted under the ethics guidelines of the Macquarie University human research ethics committee.
Findings from the study show that discursively positioning employees as reflective practitioners was a key purpose of the performance management process, as indicated through analyses of stance and chronotopes. Through the meetings and the process as a whole, employees undertaking performance management were obliged to set goals for the future, and then later reflect on their achievement of these goals. This positioning as reflexive/reflective practitioners was achieved discursively through the structuring of meetings' phasing, and also through the structure of the performance management form itself, linking the positioning of employees in the meetings to the broader textual trajectory of the performance management process. Technologisation of discourse was also key to this positioning of the employees, through raising metapragmatic awareness of the use of language and literacy practices in the performance management system. However, there was also evidence of resistance to the performance management process, through alternative discursive framings of the process as well as a counter language ideology of the process as being 'HR-language'. Implications for the production of subjectivity in the post-Fordist workplace are finally discussed.