Compliance and control: How performance measures make and unmake universities (Working Paper)
University of Exeter
The power of performance measures and metrics can be seen as a key concern in management and organization. How individuals comply with and react to these measures, and how they effect change is a crucial issue in the field. We address this theme within a specific area: the introduction of measures and controls to improve PhD completion times in a research intensive UK university. Our findings show that despite concerns about the reductionist nature of the target, the 'one size fits all' approach and the consequences for quality and innovation, academics complied with the measure and through their reactions, reinforced it. We show how a PhD completion policy changed the very thing it was trying to measure and although the target became corrupted through some forms of compliance, it nonetheless was self-fulfilling in terms of its effects on the academics. The paper develops the literature on the power effects of measures by suggesting compliance as a type of practice which may simultaneously change and reinforce the power of measures. We argue that the different forms compliance takes determines how academics react to measures. Our findings have important implications for understanding how measures relate to power and resistance in organizations.