Performance Measures and the Rationalization of Organizations

Barbara Townley, D Cooper, L Oakes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    176 Citations (Scopus)


    This article focuses on rationalization, its dimensions, the possibilities of reasoned justification in the public sphere, and the technologies that would operationalize this. It does so through an analysis of the introduction of performance measurement in the Provincial Government of Alberta, Canada. We argue that performance measurement represents twin dimensions of rationalization: the pursuit of reason in human affairs, that is, the process of bringing to light the justifications by which actions and policies are pursued; and rationalization as the increasing dominance of a means-end instrumental rationality. The article illustrates how an initial enthusiasm by managers for the performance management initiatives was replaced with scepticism and cynicism. We show how the potential for reasoned justification was frustrated in practice, through a growing disparity between a discourse of reasoned justification and the practical operationalization of mechanisms of business planning and performance measurement. The search for reasoned justification and instrumental mastery are part of the same rationalization process, and these two contradictory, but inherently connected forces are an important explanation of the dynamics of managers' responses to organizational change.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1045-1071
    Number of pages27
    JournalOrganization Studies
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2003


    • performance measurement
    • rationalization
    • reasoned justification
    • communicative action
    • instrumental rationality
    • New Public Management


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