The Performance Swear Box

swear speech bubbleIf you’re ever talking about performance and you hear any of these phrases coming out of your mouth…

  • “…compared to this time last year / last month / last week / the average / the target / the other department, team or person”.
  • “…in the green / in the red”.
  • “…month-to-date / year-to-date.”

Or focus on…

  • Mistakes, failures, perceived deficiencies or other bad stuff.
  • The past.


  • Ask how many units per day are required to keep performance ‘on track’.
  • Insist that people focus their efforts on getting something done before the end of the month / quarter / year / other performance period.
  • Demand improvement without offering a method.

…then STOP what you are doing, do an immediate facepalm and drop a coin into a performance swear box, like the one below:

Performance swear box

(If you don’t have a performance swear box, you can easily make one using an empty baked beans tin with a handwritten label on it).

The reason the performance swear box is a good idea is because all of those phrases are irrelevant to understanding or improving performance, and in some cases can actually make performance worse. No one wants that.

In the meantime, trust me – replace the old performance conversation with phrases like these:

  • Does the data help us understand actual performance?
  • Is the data presented with context and supported by narrative?
  • Can we use it to improve performance?
  • Does it help the people on the frontline to do their jobs better?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you’re on the right track. Otherwise, at least a charity of your choice will benefit everytime you turn the screw in the wrong direction.

If you want to know more, have a read of my book Intelligent Policing, or flick through previous blog posts.


About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I dislike numerical targets and unnecessary bureaucracy.
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2 Responses to The Performance Swear Box

  1. Dave Hasney says:

    Although I don’t profess to be an academic, there really is no need to possess high levels of great learning to see and understand that which you promote. It’s all so bloody easy to understand. The factor that detracts from any understanding (and more importantly, the application) is this… Far too many people in management positions within the service are failing the remainder of the workforce, and the public they serve. They are failing the service by being grasping at suspect figures and data to evidence their own worth. In short, they are far too interested in their own self-importance and personal career advancement… There is no ‘self’ in Service!

  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    Ha! Brilliant.
    Im going to make me one of those. I’ll tweet a photo of it when done. Ill donate the proceedings to the Systems Thinking Policy Officers Benevolent Fund.

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