The Impact of Culture and Performance Management in the Work of the UNFPA in Afghanistan

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Organisations operate in a variety of arenas and contexts. They have to work within a broader economic framework, operate in accordance to political demands and legal structures, and deal with other technological and infrastructural realities. The wider social and cultural context also impacts the operations of any organisation. Prevailing values, traditions and attitudes amongst clients, users or other ‘stakeholders’ of the organisation in a particular area of operation impact strongly on both its internal performance and whether it can meet its goals and targets (Aluko, 2003). A study of an organisation’s performance in an especially challenging social and cultural context should, therefore, provide evidence as to how far cultural impacts influence and alter the operation of a modern organisation.

The reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan since 2001 represents a striking example of a sharp clash between the operation of organisations and a specific cultural reality. Many international bodies, institutions and NGOs have become involved in Afghanistan, providing humanitarian aid, re-building infrastructure, and encouraging political and social changes in the wake of an on-going Western military involvement in the country as part of the global confrontation with terror after 9/11. Afghanistan is an additionally challenging environment for the work of international humanitarian and non-governmental organisations, as it has suffered many years of virtual state collapse and the imposition of strict Islamic traditions and law under the Taliban ‘emirate’ that controlled much of the country preceding 2001.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is one of the international bodies at work in post-2001 Afghanistan. The Population Fund was set up in the postwar period to work towards ensuring that the equal rights of women are recognised, and to promote reproductive health. An important part of this work has been the conducting of surveys to draw up nationwide strategies on rights and healthcare. The UNFPA has been involved in Afghanistan since the late 1970s, but it has only been with the establishment of the Western-supported Karzai government following 2001 that it has had a significant role to play in building institutions and developing the networks to promote its goals in the area of reproductive rights and health.

Afghanistan and the UNFPA thus form an excellent case study to determine the extent to which an international organisation has had to adapt its performance management in a way that tallies its worldwide experiences, resources, and indeed operating assumptions, with its particular goals and challenges in a given cultural context. Afghanistan also has a history of defying the expectations forged in Western institutions and publics. Those ‘on the ground’ have often argued that in Afghanistan things take much longer than expected and never fit the original plan (Johnson, 2011, p. 300). Indeed, the first years of the UNFPA’s post-Taliban involvement in the country were largely confined to the capital city Kabul and it is only recently that a more nationwide strategy – based on selected Northern and Central regions – has been implemented.

This study will also benefit from the fact that the UNFPA has its own distinctive Performance Appraisal and Development System (PAD), which provides unique insight into its performance and the management of adaptations in Afghanistan. The PAD system encourages continuous feedback and training, and, notably, links individual work planning to the broader management plan and the overall organisational priorities in the Fund (UNFPA, 2011). ‘On the ground’ work and approaches are directly connected with the organisation’s management and its overall goals, and should afford it maximum flexibility and performance in its operations while still meeting its original targets and international concerns. This study aims to determine how successful this attempt to marry UNFPA’s goals with the socio-cultural realities in Afghanistan has been.


The UNFPA first started its work in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, cooperating with Afghan ministries. During much of the 1980s, Afghanistan was consumed with a civil war and a military intervention by the Soviet Union. In the preceding 1960s and 1970s, Afghanistan had seen a modernising state; much of the development and infrastructure built up in this period was destroyed during the conflict of the 1980s. The capacity of the central state was reduced, allowing the development of warlordism and regional loyalties, often reinforcing conservative attitudes and concerns amongst the local population.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Moscow-supported government in Kabul quickly collapsed. Out of the struggles between various groups and armed factions, the Taliban established a form of centralised authority over about 80% of the country by the mid-1990s. In what is often seen as a deeply conservative country, the Taliban was able to establish some social support for its harsh implementation of summary justice and strict reading of Islamic tradition, filling the vacuum left by a collapsed state. The Taliban earned international condemnation for its extreme approach on the issue of women’s rights, to the extent of denying women basic education and healthcare. At this time, the UNFPA cooperated to only a very limited degree with central Taliban authorities.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban and the establishment of the Karzai government, the UNFPA has seen four distinct phases of ever-greater involvement in Afghanistan. The first stage, during 2002-4, was largely combined to Kabul, when the Fund cooperated with the new Afghan Ministry of Health and other NGOs in rehabilitating three major maternity hospitals in the capital. In the next two years, the Fund’s work was still largely confined to the Afghan capital, in the elaboration of strategies for Afghanistan nationally. The years 2007-9 saw the increasing implementation of a national strategy in accordance to the Fund’s goals. Cooperating with the Afghan Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, and in a move that shows the UNFPA’s cognisance of and adaptation to cultural realities, the Fund encouraged the training of religious leaders on the harms of gender-based violence and the importance of healthy families. The Fund also became actively involved in building new central institutions rather than working with (in this case, non-) existing state institutions, by developing an Afghan census data processing centre.

In the most recent phase since 2010, the Fund has attempted to make an impact well beyond the relatively heavily guarded confines of Kabul, by working towards the Afghan National Development Strategy and realising Millennium Development Goals on governance and stability, and the provision of sustainable livelihoods and basic social services. This period has seen an expansion of the Fund’s role in North-Central regions of Afghanistan to provide training in reproductive health in rural areas.

Afghan Conditions

Even with the absence of an effective state presence in much of rural Afghanistan, the work of all humanitarian organisations in the country has been made extremely challenging given the security situation. South-Western regions of the country are currently convulsed by a ‘neo-Taliban’ insurgency, making it very difficult for aid agencies to work. A compounded challenge is the Western military’s strategy of combining aid with their military presence in order to win ‘hearts and minds’. This ‘growing politicisation and securitisation of aid’ (Jalalzei and Jeffries, 2011) has resulted in some aid workers being attacked as they have been seen as connected to the ISAF and NATO forces present in the country.

Many other local Afghans are thus understandably wary of cooperating with Western agencies for fear of reprisals for ‘collaboration’. Insurgents have used and abused Afghan and Islamic traditions of hospitality to move amongst local people, obtain shelter and get information (Johnson, 2011). The Karzai government, on the other hand, has often been seen as corrupt, and has very little presence in rural areas. As a consequence, insurgents have been able by weaving amongst the local population to obtain some support, dispensing of summary justice, regulating disputes between local clans, and intimidating those who might wish to work with the representatives of Western organisations.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Taliban, many agencies arrived in Kabul with differing agendas for development of the country. Afghan officials in the Karzai government complained of a ‘revolving door’ of specialists who did not understand the actual situation and stuck rigidly to what could be seen as ‘neo-colonial’ conceptions of Afghanistan’s problems and their solution. The presence of so many different agencies and various donor agendas complicated the reconstruction effort in the first years of reconstruction. The UNFPA, consequently, in its most recent phase of operations, has made clear its intention on ‘Delivering as One’, to work with all other UN agencies in major areas of its operation.

Organisations such as the UNFPA also have to contend with other difficulties, in particular the division between urban and rural Afghanistan. Notably the Fund’s operations in the first four years of the Karzai government were largely confined to the capital, in the ‘Kabul bubble’. This general situation had led to accusations that Western NGOs were ‘remote’ from ordinary Afghans’ and particularly women’s concerns (Jalalzei and Jeffries, 2011). There is also a rural-urban divide to be overcome, where widespread illiteracy in rural areas has meant that supporters of Western organisations championing the rights of women such as the UNFPA have felt less empowered than their educated, urban compatriots, and who are more vulnerable to attacks from those resisting changes to the conservative status quo.

The social, political and cultural conditions in Afghanistan have thus put particular constraints on the UNFPA, in particular concerns over the strength of the ‘security envelope’ and to avoid the impression of working with military forces. The Fund as a consequence has been obliged to implement its nationwide programme unevenly, focusing on the relatively calmer North-Central regions of Bamyan, Badakhshan, Faryab and Daikundi. As the Fund states these areas meet ‘minimum required levels of stability and security.’ These are also the regions where local communities have demonstrated a ‘willingness to come halfway’ and work with UN agencies (UNFPA). It would seem that local cultures also have to adapt to the presence of organisations, as much as vice versa, if significant change is to be attempted.

Culture and Organisations

Organisations do not exist in a vacuum, but inhabit a socio-cultural arena. Culture, in the broad sense, which includes the ‘aggregation of attitudes, norms, style, values, consumption patterns, general world-view, perceptions and expressions that distinguish a people from others’ (Aluko, 2003: 165) is a vital factor that determines an organisation’s performance. Organisations therefore should pay due attention to the way the operational environment influences in manifold ways the working and success of its operation and how established procedures and processes in one area may not run true in another.

Performance management, which aims to realise an organisation’s goals in the most efficient manner, has an important role to play in this. It encompasses not only the performance of the organisation as a whole, but also that of its internal departments, employees, processes and service delivery (Armstrong and Baron, 2004). Performance management seeks to integrate employees’ work with the overall aims of the organisation, combining the ordinary actions and operations of an organisation with its mission and vision (Williams, 2002).

Culture and performance management are thus important factors influencing any organisation’s capacity to meet its key goals over the medium to long term. In the case of the UNFPA, which operates in a number of diverse countries and societies, it is even more important that its ability to perform in a culturally adaptive way is managed in the most effective way. Organisations that are present in multiple locations should allow that their operations cannot always be uniform, and that performance management systems should not only be aware of the cultural context in which they are functioning but also leverage that culture in order to improve the performance of employees and their organisations in that context as a whole.

This study of the UNFPA’s performance management and work in Afghanistan discusses below the specific and general outcomes of cultural impacts on organisational success. Describing and drawing on how cultural conditions in Afghanistan have obliged the UNFPA to adapt its programme and organisational behaviour, broader conclusions will be made on how far cultural realities force organisational adjustments. It will be argued that effective performance management has a key role in an organisation’s adaptation, and suggestions will be made on how cultural impacts can be leveraged for an organisation’s on-going success in meeting its goals.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Culture and its Impact on Organizations

‘Culture’ should be understood as distinct from high culture, culture with a capital ‘C’; rather, the understanding of culture employed here reflects theoretical developments since the 1960s that see culture as a web of human significance that encapsulates all expression and activity, providing meaning and communication. Many theorists (Foucault, Derrida) postulate, in particular, the structuring qualities of language; how language itself creates identities, gives meaning, provides ‘knowledge’. Most challengingly, theorists of ‘discourse’ – i.e. the structural and cultural power of language – have even argued that it is very difficult for there to be an independent authorial voice, that the language, ideas and culture within which an individual expresses themselves largely shape one’s consciousness and behaviour.

There are two conclusions to be reached from this. One, that the multidimensional, all-encompassing, and pervasive nature of culture makes it difficult to exhaustively define or conceptualize (see for instance Hofstede, 1984; Tomassello, 1999; Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952). In this sense culture is fluid and changing, unpredictable and different, as well as being all-pervasive. However, there also appears to be some level of agreement that culture is external as opposed to innate – emanating from environmental and social influences on individuals in society. In line with this general idea of culture, there have been many definitions of the concept, each seeking to conceptualize culture from the different perspectives of the respective authors with regard to its defining hallmarks.

Cotgrove (1978) explains that culture entails a social system’s shared values and norms that are considered a very important aspect of the society. Similarly, Hofstede (1991) contends that culture involves a collective ‘programming’ of the minds of members of a group, and that it is what distinguishes members of a group or society from others. The foregoing definitions essentially conceptualize culture as the range of influences that shape the behaviours, orientations and worldviews of members of any given human collective, such that sets them apart from other groups.

A number of authors have pointed out that, irrespective of the different ways of defining culture, it generally consists of two distinct aspects: material culture and non-material culture (see for instance Aluko, 2003). Material culture is the dimension of culture that is explicit and palpable, involving tangible elements such as local technology, infrastructure, handicrafts etc. Non-material culture, on the other hand, encompass intangible elements that pertain to attitudes, norms, values, philosophy, language, knowledge, and other such aspects of culture that can be felt but not directly perceived (see also Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952). It is this somewhat intangible quality of non-material norms and values in a given cultural and social context that will have very significant effects for the reception and working of an institution in that context; a legal system that enshrines individual property rights will not have the respect, nor indeed popular support, from a society in which property is considered a collective, not private resource. Similarly, liberal-democratic institutions and organisations will have less political influence within polities and broader cultures where there is little tradition, or indeed the language, of civil society and respect for the intrinsic autonomy of the individual. Western companies, based on maximum transparency in business, will also find the going tough in parts of the world where bribery is seen as a daily reality.

Thus, culture has effects on organizational performance, particularly in terms of identifiable differences in the way that organizations perform in culturally disparate environments. Zakaria (1997) also suggests that there is a sense in which culture affects organizational performance from the perspective of employee behaviour. In this contention, employee behaviour is a key determinant of organizational performance, and employee behaviour itself is attributable to broader cultural factors, which include beliefs, values, background, perceptions, and attitudes to work. Employees work with the assumptions, norms and values that they have acquired from their own cultural background. This is also reinforced in organisations that have their origins in the same culture; the dominant ‘working culture’ within that organisation is then doubly the result of its culture of origin and that from where its employees come.

Indeed, with specific regard to the UNFPA, the impact of culture on the organization’s functions is based on a combination of salient assumptions that arguably underpin the very nature of culture itself. The UNFPA (2009: 1) suggests ‘culture matters’ in the discharge of the organization’s work in its respective locations due to the assumptions that cultures encompass “realities of history and geography”, and that culture represents the unavoidable context within which development and humanitarian aid can only take place in respective societies. It also indicates that culture is important to the organization’s work in view of the assumption that the implementation of international human rights agreements – a key facilitating condition for the UNFPA’s intervention programmes – are usually possible in the context of culture. All international bodies are dependent on the patchwork of nation-states, regional interests, and cultural accommodations for the success of their interventions, for these are the real structures ‘on the ground’ that can give expression to the universal aspirations of global institutions. These assumptions suggest the overriding importance of culture as well as its contextual value in an increasingly globalised world, with its tensions between the local and the supra-national, for shaping the environment within which the UNFPA seeks to perform its core duties and achieve its goals.

Conceptualizations of Performance Management

‘Performance management’ emerged from an increasing awareness, since the 1950s, of the impact human resources approaches could have in an organisation’s success. As Elizabeth Houldsworth and Dilum Jirasinghe (2006) have concluded, organisations may ‘benefit more by focusing on their human resources than they would by focusing on competitor strategy, quality focus or R&D investment’ (p. 34). With this growing appreciation of how employees’ performance can shape success, so too have increasingly sophisticated performance management approaches become a more extensive and familiar feature of an organisation’s strategic planning.

From the end of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, many global organisations developed their human resources processes to combine two distinct approaches, and which reflected the theoretical models developing in the academic study of business performance, employee motivation and assessment. These two approaches can be considered ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ (Houldsworth and Jirasinghe, 2006). The ‘hard’ approach emphasised employee assessment in relation to targets, quantitative indicators and compliance to company-wide macro-parameters. ‘Soft’ approaches focused on an employee’s individual development, self-regulation and striving towards personal goals in collaboration with managers.

‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches could be said to mirror McGregor’s (1971) seminal arguments on employee motivation. McGregor argued that there could two ways to consider why employees performed, a Theory X and a Theory Y. Theory X postulated that people essentially do not like work, and that as a consequence organisations to enforce sanctions in order to guarantee performance. Theory Y, on the contrary, posits the idea that people work creatively when the responsibility and structure exist to do so.

It is this latter hypothesis of people’s motivation at work that has informed the understanding of performance management. Performance management encourages employees to take on responsibility for their goals, working towards them in dialogue with managers. This emphasis, though, has still been combined with a simultaneous recent trend towards ‘harder’ macro-criteria of assessment within companies, which gives the opportunity of linking individual development of employees’ roles and performance with the broader aims and expectations of an organisation as a whole. This combined approach to performance management can afford organisations the flexibility and direction to succeed both in meeting their goals ‘on the ground’ and at a global level. Thus, performance management can increasingly be equated with a holistic management of the organization’s resources – including employees, processes, learning and development – for the ultimate purpose of enhancing the organization’s capacity to perform effectively and realize its specified goals.

Performance management can be understood as an increasingly sophisticated outgrowth of the practice of the employee appraisal that was first widely introduced in business from the 1960s. In contrast to the appraisal’s emphasis on the employee meeting certain benchmarks, and its rather formal, one-way discussion from manager to employee, contemporary performance management approaches rely on ‘360 degree feedback’ and communication between all stakeholders in meeting an employee’s goals. Performance management also encourages positive outcomes, looking at how problems can be solved rather than assigning blame. It involves, too, a great deal of trust between manager and employee; ‘employee empowerment’ expects employees to take many of their own decisions.

Part of the aim of performance management has been to foster a ‘clear line of sight’, so an employee understands what is meant by ‘doing well’ in concrete terms. It encourages employees to understand how their role contributes to the goals of the organisation as a whole. This has the added benefit of reducing hierarchical decision-making processes; with a fuller understanding of their functions, employees may not need to throw up decisions to line managers, and can take greater initiative. In a sense, managers can ‘get out of the way’ and employees can get on with their jobs, giving the organisation greater flexibility as a result.

Performance management relies on managers gathering a broad range of data, in the macro sense but also informally; observing and planning; and also, importantly, mentoring employees to reach their goals. In dialogue with employees, they can diagnose the cause of problems and coach employees for future performance, in a positive process of reviewing and improving. In this process, it is important that the manager is not only able to articulate and translate the organisation’s values into the personal work goals and approach of the employee, but also to include the employee as a stakeholder in that dialogue. As Richard Williams has argued ‘if the mission/strategy statement is to provide direction and serve as a basis for action, to promote particular values and act as a guide to behaviour and such like it seems only reasonable that those who will be affected by this should have some say in shaping its content.’ Ultimately, successful performance management can have the effect of combining broader aims of the organisation with those of the individual’s, of marrying short-term employee performance with the long-term mission of a company.

For Armstrong and Baron (2004), performance management entails the process that facilitates the effective and efficient management of individuals and teams towards achieving considerable organizational performance. The authors suggest that performance management brings about shared understanding about what the organization seeks to achieve, as well as an approach to leading and developing the organization’s people in order to ensure that specified aims are achieved. Furthermore, Armstrong and Baron (2004) stress that performance management essentially involves the strategy that relates to all activities that an organization engages in, particularly in the context of the organization’s culture, human resource policies, culture, operational style, and systems of communication. However, the organizational context typically determines the nature of the adopted strategy in this regard, and it may vary across different organizations.

A number of other scholars have also highlighted the strategic element of performance management. In this regard, De Waal (2002) suggests that performance management is a process that aims at enabling the organization to deliver predictable and consistent contributions to value creation goals. Flapper et al (2006) similarly contend that the degree of success attained by an organization depends on the extent to which it can execute its operations in line with its strategies. Accordingly, performance management should involve strategic processes that ensure the harmonization of efforts within the organization particularly in terms of facilitating collective contribution by all members and parts of the organization towards shared objectives. This is best achieved by means of measurements embedded in the performance management system.

On the other hand, Edis (1995) explains that Performance management involves the integrated and systematic approach that seeks to improve an organization’s performance towards achieving corporate strategic aims and promoting the organization’s mission and values. Armstrong (2006) therefore argues that performance management’s main purpose is to establish a culture of high-performance in which the individuals and teams that make up the organization take full responsibility for continuously improving business processes and organizational output within a clearly defined framework.

Several authors (e.g. Armstrong, 2006; Lockett, 1992; Bratton and Gold 2007) indicate that the performance management process consists of a cycle, which includes activities pertaining to four key stages: planning, action, monitoring, and review. Armstrong (2006) explains that in the performance management cycle, planning involves outlining the agreement on objectives and standards that the organization sets out to achieve. Action refers to activities towards implementing the plans in order to achieve the specified standards and attain the clearly outlined objectives. On the other hand, monitoring has to do with the strategies and activities instituted to monitor continuously the actions of members of the organization – as implemented in their day-to-day work. Lastly, Armstrong (2006) explains that the review stage of the performance management cycle serves the purpose of taking stock of the progress being made in terms of how much has been achieved in the implementation of the plans and actions, and thereafter proffering recommendations for improvement where necessary.

However, some criticisms of performance management systems exist in the academic literature. Brown and Benson (2003) for instance argue that the emphasis and high premium that performance management systems typically place on the improvement of organizational performance leads to undue pressure on employees and managers who are pushed to enhance performance often to the detriment of their welfare. On another level, Bevan and Thompson (1991) claim that in spite of the supposed performance improvement goals of most performance management systems, there is insufficient evidence to prove that a correlation actually exists between perceived high-performance in organizations and the existence and operation of performance management systems in such organizations. This perspective therefore attempts to refute the notion that performance management systems have clear and direct implications for organizations’ level of performance.

Ultimately, though, performance management has clear benefits for the organisation. It fosters and entrenches a ‘cross-organisational working culture’ (Houldsworth, p. 92) and can ‘harness the individual [employee] to the organisation as a whole.’ This has especially positive implications for ‘on the ground’ interaction between the employee and the customer, or other stakeholders. It is important to keep all stakeholder needs ‘in some kind of balance’ (Sohein 1992: 53) for the longer-term activities of any organisation; an organisation that does not listen to either its customers, employees, or other stakeholders is cut off from a feedback loop, and will make increasingly unrealistic business decisions. As Richard Williams identified (2009), ‘ideas of getting close to the customer wants so as to identify and meet changing consumer demands and expectations/requirements are now widely accepted.’ This legacy of the trend to performance management: getting to know the customer, the client, the stakeholder, and for managers and employees to work in close dialogue, are clearly crucial for the work of the UNFPA, and in the culturally sensitive interactions between an international organisation and a volatile and often quite alien Afghan environment. Performance management at the interface between the organisation and the people it is meant to help is central to the UNFPA’s work in Afghanistan.

Performance Management Culture and the UNFPA

There is also a sense in which a performance management culture needs to be created in order to maximize the chances of an organization to reap the benefits of effective performance management. In this regard, Blakinger (2006) points out that there are two elements involved in the implementation of an efficient Organizational Performance Management System: the system itself and effective leadership that is required for the successful achievement of the organization’s goals. Blakinger (2006: 1) begins by defining organizational performance management as the “ongoing process that quantifies and monitors organizational performance, and aligns that performance to the needs of the organization’s stakeholders”. He subsequently argues that for such performance management to serve its intended purposes there needs to be concerted efforts to entrench the system in the culture of the organization by means of effective strategic leadership.

Indeed, the importance of performance management culture can also be situated in the context of the UNFPA’s experience. In this regard, DFID (2011) reports that although the UNFPA has made considerable efforts towards improving strategic and performance management, the organization is nonetheless encumbered by a relatively weak culture of evaluation, which makes it difficult to determine that strategic decisions by the organization are truly based on performance information generated through the established performance management systems. DFID (2011) therefore concludes that present performance management in the UNFPA is weak, suggesting that an efficient performance management culture needs to be instituted in the organization to facilitate the achievement of goals and meeting stakeholder needs in the locations where it operates.

The performance management culture at the UNFPA cannot be discussed in isolation of the performance management framework of the United Nations system as a whole, including the performance management systems at the programme and project level. The UN (2000) states that the United Nations’ performance management framework consists of several layers and multi-level stages of development including medium-term planning that ps a four-year period, programme budgeting on a biennial basis, programme implementation monitoring with periodic performance reports, and various levels of evaluation such as self-evaluation, in depth evaluation and internal/external evaluation. With regard to performance management at the project level, which encompasses the work of the UNFPA, Mizutani (2002) reports that United Nations agencies have typically applied relatively sophisticated instruments to monitor and evaluate the progress being made, which also permits stakeholders and funding/partner organizations and governments to be apprised of the information gathered from performance measurement. Mizutani (2002) further argues that the difficulty in establishing effective performance management at the programme level is partly brought about by the challenge posed by accountability obligations to the respective governments and to the executing and funding organizations in general. This is consistent with Lane (2000), who contends that accountability issues are critical to the evaluation of performance management systems, particularly in organizations whose work straddles public management

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

Research methodology is essentially a strategic outline of the methods and approaches by which he researcher hopes to accomplish the purpose and aims of the research, and its main goal is to connect the research questions with the focus and direction of the research in order to ensure the consistency of the research outcome (Mouton and Marais, 1992). Accordingly, the research methodology encompasses the research approach, research strategy, data collection methods, and method of data analysis that the researcher would adopt in conducting the research. In line with the foregoing, and in order to accomplish the aims of the dissertation in the most effective manner, the proposed dissertation will feature a research method that is largely qualitative in design. It adopts the inductive approach, which is based on the collection and analysis of sizable qualitative data to facilitate understanding of the research context(s), and gain functional knowledge of the meanings that, as suggested by Saunders et al (2000), individuals attach to phenomena.

It is pertinent to point out that knowledge is arguably has to do with subjective interpretation, and the degree to which the impact culture and performance management is functionally linkable to the performance of the UNFPA in Afghanistan is best evaluated with a research method that permits an in-depth investigation of the correlations between separate and interconnected variables. The qualitative or inductive research approach is therefore deemed appropriate for the proposed dissertation given that it would enhance the capacity of the researcher to examine researcher data in detail and uncover both tacit and explicit information that would help the understanding of the research subject.

Research Strategy

The research strategy I intend to use for the proposed study is the case study strategy. The strategy involves a focused investigation of a phenomenon by means of an in-depth study of the subject of the research in a real life context that helps the researcher gain practical insights and contextual understanding of the research topic (Yin, 1984; Bryman, 2001). It would ideally be appropriate to use a large number of organizations and locations for the purpose of investigating the impact of the respective cultures and performance management on the organizations’ performances, thus gaining broader insights and making more valid conclusions. However, constraints on time and resources makes it clearly impracticable for the case study to use too many organizations, and therefore makes it necessary to choose an organization that would suffice for the purposes of the research. Accordingly, the UNFPA and its performance in Afghanistan is chosen as the case study because the global nature of the Fund implies that it necessarily contends with cultural issues that may differ substantially across its operating locations. Furthermore, Afghanistan offers an interesting example of a country in which extant cultural issues and volatile operating environment may have considerable implications for the UNFPA’s performance, and present challenges for its performance management framework.

Data Collection

Two categories of data would be collected for the proposed study: primary data and secondary data.

Primary Data

The Primary data for the dissertation is obtained from semi-structured interviews and online questionnaires administered to employees and representatives of the UNFPA selected from those stationed in Afghanistan as well as from the Fund’s global administrative headquarters in the United States. The interviews will be structured in a way that aims at extracting contextual and relevant information pertaining to the UNFPA’s experiences with culture and performance management in Afghanistan, and its performance management system in general. The questionnaires are also designed to sample the views of respondents pertaining to the specific kinds of impact that culture has on the UNFP’s performance, as well as the impacts of the Fund’s performance management system on its performance in Afghanistan.

Secondary Data

The secondary data collection for the proposed study relies on various open sources of academic materials relating to the research subject and context. Some of the resources that provide materials for the research include books, journal articles, and online publications on culture and its impact on organizations, as well as performance management and its impact on organizational performance. Electronic databases such as Google Scholar, Emerald Insight, Questia, and Jstor also provide valuable materials on the subjects of culture and performance management in the context of organizations. Secondary data that provides information pertaining to the UNFPA operations and Afghanistan’s socio-cultural environment will also be obtained from the aforementioned sources as well as from the web-based resources of the United Nations and the UNFPA.

Method of Data Analysis

Thematic analysis would be applied to analyze the research material obtained for the proposed study. I consider the thematic method of analysis to be appropriate for the study because it avails the researcher of a framework for systematically defining, detecting, and exploring the most relevant issues involved in the research context (Bernard, 2000). With the thematic analysis, it would be easier for me to identify patterns that are recurrent and pertinent within the obtained data; this facilitates a more accurate interpretation of the information contained in the research data.

Justification and Limitations of the Preferred Research Method

The rationale for the choice of the qualitative/inductive research method is that it enables the researcher to have a broader interpretation and deeper understanding of ordinarily complex phenomena. Using the inductive research method would enhance my capacity to obtain case-relevant and contextual information concerning how culture and performance management respectively affect the UNFPA’s performance in Afghanistan, especially in terms of the Fund’s ability to deliver value to stakeholders. Furthermore, the choice of interview and questionnaire as data collection methods reflects the researcher’s confidence in these methods for generating sufficient and in-depth information in order to achieve the objectives of the study.

There are nonetheless a number of limitations associated with the research design in spite of the observed strengths of the adopted method,. One of the most noticeable limitations of the inductive research method is that it imposes constraints on the validity, reliability, and generalizability of research outcomes and conclusions due to its proneness to subjective interpretation, and the difficulty in replicating research contexts. In this regard, the findings pertaining to how culture and performance management affects the UNFPA in Afghanistan may not be replicable elsewhere or apply in the context of other organizations and/or locations.

Chapter 4 Culture in Afghanistan.

Given that the UNFPA is an organisation aware of cultural difference and sensitivities, it is itself an excellent of source of information about the specific socio-cultural reality in Afghanistan. The UNFPA’s own Action Plan for 2010 to 2013, agreed with the Karzai government, provides a great deal of ‘on the ground’ insight about the cultural dynamic that the organisation has experienced during its increasing activities in the country since 2001. Three specific features of Afghan society are brought out in the report: a rather low rate of urbanisation, an unusually large youth population and very limited rights for women.

Afghanistan’s ‘very low urbanisation rate’ implies that in practice the overwhelming majority of people live in ‘highly dispersed small rural settlements’ (UNFPA, Action Plan 2010-2013, p. 8). While the UNFPA points to the inevitable high ‘transaction costs’ of distributing reproductive health commodities in such a fragmented and underdeveloped geography, there are also of course cultural ramifications of this dispersion of settlements. Isolation and distance from central intervention indirectly allows the consolidation of conservative attitudes within small and often quite vulnerable communities. Agriculture is often barely above a subsistence level and requires full individual participation with, and adherence to, the community as a whole for the pooling of resources. Beyond this, the historical weakness of security provided a central state has been compensated for by local allegiance to tribal structures. As a consequence, two traditional sources of authority hold great sway over local people and families: village and/or tribal elders and religious leaders.

Traditional local or tribal governing structures, in particular the tribal ‘qawm’ or ‘solidarity group’ and local councils (shuras) and meetings (jirgas), have provided Afghans the ‘social capital’ in the past to carry on without an effective central political authority (Mikhael, 2009). On the other hand, though, such ‘solidarity groups’ can blunt modernising or interventionist initiatives, especially by enforcing collective loyalty to the established social pattern and its hierarchy. Afghan tribes also provide a degree of justice, law and rules on conduct that can give a degree of stability but also constitute a barrier to alternative forms of public life. The Pashtun majority, and particularly in the rural areas in Afghanistan, subscribe to the Pashtun code of conduct – the Pashtunwali. Central themes of the code are equality, the protection of female family members and wealth, and honour. Other important aspects are tribal cohesion and the protection of outsiders living in villages.

These cultural norms thus tend to reinforce what might be understood as a ‘household’ focus of rights and entitlements, rather than the contemporary Western stress on the intrinsic human rights of the individual. It is the household, and its eldest, who are seen as the basis of full and respected participation in the community, and, indeed, of economic survival. If a Pashtun loses his namus, his ‘homeland’ or household, he loses his ezzat, or honour, in society. He will ‘not have a place in the family, village or larger Pakhtun [sic] society’ (Mikhael, 2009: 3). The ‘honour’ of the household has to be maintained; the family within, as the source of labour, is also in a sense an economic means over which the elder expects untrammelled authority. From this, it becomes apparent why women and girls are often treated almost as a form of property within households and sometimes transferable between households in lieu of payment for debts and so on. The hold of elders over households and communities also leads to generational tensions and frustrations of youth who wish to have more of a voice in decision-making. The household focus is also, finally, the source of Afghanistan’s famed hospitality to strangers. It is a source of pride and standing in the community to be able to provide for the guest, and protect them as part of their namus; it is, however, this very tradition that insurgents have used to maintain links and keep a hold over the local population, and to bedevil the security and humanitarian mission.

Sufi religious sects and informal madrasas (Islamic teaching schools) at work in local communities often espouse more conservative interpretations of the Koran, which parallel some of the attitudes of the Pashtunwali code of conduct, in particular attitudes to women. The public respect and protection of women as a symbol of the honour of a man and his household has a long history in the Islamic world, but this has been made particularly sharp in Afghanistan following the influence of radical Mujahadeen in the 1980s, and the Taliban ‘emirate’ of the 1990s. This has also been partly a reaction to the anxieties and intrusions of a globalised world, and notions what should constitute honour and conduct, leading to the ‘seclusion’ of women by in extreme cases ‘veiling’ and separate facilities, public spaces and services for men and women. In practice this has often amounted to what could be seen as worse than second-class status for women, denied a political voice and even rudimentary healthcare and education provision.

Thus, the socio-cultural reality for women is of concern for international bodies such as the UNFPA, which has a mandate to work to protect the human rights and reproductive health of women. The UNFPA Action Plan argues that the ‘conservative interpretation of Islam and traditional values prevalent in Afghan society’ also has rooted within it ‘violence’ that is ‘widespread’ against women and girls. Honour and livelihood are so central to the elder’s hold over the household that violence is often exercised over the female members of the family to maintain it. Such ‘harmful traditional practices’ include ‘rape, honour killings, early and forced marriage, [and] sexual slavery’ (p.11) Afghanistan is unusual in the degree of violence against women; some 87% of women have experienced some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage, and a sizable majority of 62% have experience multiple forms of violence (ibid.). The Action Plan quotes the Afghan Ministry of Women, which reports that 82% of violence committed against women is from family members, by both men and women, suggesting that some women themselves have acted, while themselves possibly its victims, to maintain this traditional attitude.

Early and forced marriage of girls is particularly pronounced in Afghanistan, as well as the expectation of early motherhood. The Action Plan notes that some 57% of girls are married off before the age of 16, even though the law states that women should be of 16 years of age to do so (p. 8). On average, the husbands are up to seven years older than their wives. The relative youth of the wives does not facilitate the independence and sexual rights of women within wedlock, and divorce is practically an impossibility. While the Karzai government in Kabul has introduced much legislation committed to establishing the equal rights of women, Afghan traditional attitudes have even made their presence felt here, with the passing of the Shia Personal Status Law, which stipulates that women should ask husbands to leave the house, and not to refuse sex if their husbands demand it (Human Rights Watch, April 2009).

The Action Plan also stresses how young the Afghan population is as a whole. Over 50% of its population is under the age of 15, which is a much higher proportion in neighbouring Iran (26% under 15), Pakistan and Tajikistan (39% respectively) (p.8). Because of traditional structure and cultural attitudes, focusing on the authority of the household elder, the Action Plan reports that youth are generally ‘disenfranchised, lacks educational and employment opportunities, and rarely participates in decision-making at local and national levels.’ Less than a quarter of boys enrol at secondary school, and 50% are literate. Only 18% of girls can read and write, and only 7% are fortunate enough to attend secondary school. This latter statistical reality is a major stumbling block for the UNFPA’s desire to improve women’s advocacy, reproductive health knowledge and empowerment.

Male youth is at risk of under-employment. This, according the UNFPA, means their ‘increased risk of induction into the narcotics industry, illegal armed groups and terrorist organisations’ (UNFPA Action Plan, p. 8) Generally lacking ‘sufficient alternatives and initiatives’ for empowerment, youth are liable to continue to participate in the violence and dislocation that earlier generations have already endured. It may prove difficult to reach out to youth and educate them against violence towards women in a society which is already deeply traumatised and simmering in various forms of armed conflict.

The UNFPA in Afghanistan

Indicating the difficulties the UNFPA face in statistically measuring the reproductive health needs of the Afghan people, there is no agreement on the precise extent of the population, with estimates varying from widely from 23-32 million (UNFPA Action Plan, 2010: 9). Compounding the problems of a weak central state and straining local resources, Afghanistan has seen the return of 5 million refugees in the past few years, and another 2.7 million are officially known still to be in Iran and Pakistan. In terms of the UNFPA’s key goals of improving sexual and maternal health, the Action Plan notes that it is the socio-cultural norm to have large families, on average 6.3 children per woman (p. 7). This stems from the Afghan perception that large families are necessary to ‘ensure security and social support’ from the local communities, and an approach to families somewhat at odds with the organisation’s goal of improving women’s freedom of choice on issues of maternity. This, along with the influx of refugees, and combined with the healthcare deficits resulting from years of conflict, has meant that Afghanistan has very high rates of infant mortality.

Other factors also impact greatly the success of international organisations in Afghanistan. On-going security concerns, and in some areas outright insurgency, have prevented the crystallisation of a smoothly functioning administrative system. The Action Plan notes that the establishment of ‘sustainable governance and service delivery systems’ is threatened ‘at all administrative levels’ (p. 7). This makes the delivery of development efforts, and reaching out to intended beneficiaries, unpredictable and thereby costly. Realities of Afghan geography and infrastructural under-development also pose logistical difficulties for the rolling-out of sustainable national-level intervention programmes. This situation is also only made more unfortunate by the over-lapping competencies, and lack of communication and cooperation between the many various organisations, such as the European Commission, USAID and the World Bank, at work in regions of Afghanistan (UNFPA Action Plan, 2010: 10). Some agencies distribute reproductive health goods through a centralised network centred on Kabul; others have a decentralised approach periodically assigning reproductive health goods and commodities to local health centres. The Action Plan notes at the time of its composition – 2010 – that coordination between the various agencies ‘has so far been virtually non-existent’ (p. 10).

Compounding these logistical and inter-organisational difficulties for the work of the UNFPA in improving sexual and reproductive health are specific Afghan cultural obstacles that need to be overcome. A key part of a sustainable change in matters surrounding reproductive health is spreading basic knowledge about sexual heath and family planning. Eliminating violence against women (also referred to as Gender Based Violence – GBV) also will necessitate open discussion of its unacceptability. However, as the Action Plan notes: ‘issues regarding the family, Reproductive Health (RH) and gender relations are strongly governed by cultural norms and traditions, which do not favour free access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) related information and services… neither do they promote any free discussion within society, not even between married couples’ (p. 9). Thus, the work of the UNFPA is directly at loggerheads with Afghan cultural norms that dictate such matters are not the subject of open discussion, even between couples. It may all be very well to establish certain services in Afghanistan, but their success will only be muted unless a broader social perception is encouraged that such services should and need to be accessed.

The Action Plan contains a revealing section on so-called ‘lessons learnt’ within the organisation, with have implications for its performance management going forward. Traditionally, the UNFPA has tended to operate on a national and strategic level in promoting awareness of reproductive health, reducing maternal morbidity, and obtaining and utilising socio-economic and demographic data for overall development planning. The Action Plan (2010) admits, though, that in Afghanistan the organisation needs to ‘further strengthen its efforts’ in these traditional areas where it ‘has shown to have comparative strengths’ (p. 12). The organisation in Afghanistan has clearly not yet succeeded in realising and implementing a nationwide framework for reproductive health planning; the organisation’s earlier and established approach to conducting business was not conducive to the success of its goals.

Suggesting that the organisation has had to adapt its behaviour and performance management, the second item contained in the ‘lessons learnt’ section it is stated that it has to be ‘acknowledged’ that in ‘Afghanistan not all of the development goals may be achieved through a straight forward approach.’ In other words, a centralised implementation of a reproductive health framework and simply setting up services and making goods available – where the security and infrastructural conditions allow this – cannot completely provide the necessary and expected results. The Action Plan goes on to stress the need for ‘indirect’ approaches: ‘indirect interventions, such as the livelihood and life-skills approach, are sometimes required and preferred as entry points to address the UNFPA’s mandate’ (p. 12). It seems that an initially somewhat technocratic approach based outwards from Kabul has had through experience to give way to finding different ‘entry points’ for the organisation to realise its goals. This would seemingly involve closer work ‘on the ground’ to develop relationships between the organisation and its intended beneficiaries, building a relationship of trust rather than merely the implementation of nationwide approaches. Like any other organisation, success is not dependent on the mere provision of goods and services but, as performance management indicates, but depends greatly on getting to know the customer ‘on the ground’ so goods and services can be transacted in a collaborative relationship between the client and the organisation’s representatives.

Other ‘lessons learnt’ give strong indications that the organisation’s initial strategic and technocratic approach, based on its established behaviour, did not get the results that were expected. While working to build up national monitoring institutions, local institutional development – essential for delivery ‘on the ground’ – perhaps did not receive sufficient consideration; one lesson learnt was to focus ‘on [building institutional capacities] at the sub-national level’ (p. 13). Another intriguing lesson was the necessity to ‘involve religious leaders and tribal elders to promote behaviour change [on gender based violence]’ (ibid.). This suggests that initially the organisation had not taken sufficient consideration of Afghan cultural authorities. The ‘lesson learnt’ was that these key local and influential figures would have to be brought on board is to realise its mandate. (This cooperation however poses its own problems, as the UNFPA will be reliant on and will have to change the attitudes of those very leaders responsible for maintaining many Afghans’ deeply conservative cultural values and associated attitudes towards women.)

Suggesting that the UNFPA initially only had a general appreciation of its ‘customers’ another ‘lesson learnt’ has been to ‘promote [the] participation of young people’ and to encourage ‘livelihood approaches’ to address some of the ‘socio-cultural barriers faced by women, particularly young women.’ It is evident that the UNFPA has now begun to adopt some of the approaches of contemporary performance management: sensitivity and flexibility to clients’ needs, and an effort to keep all stakeholders in some form of balance: another lesson learnt was the need to ‘establish partnerships with non-traditional entities.’ The Afghan cultural reality thus had put severe limitations on the success of the UNFPA during its initial presence after 2001, but the organisation has shown a preparedness to learn from these mistakes, to interact with the surrounding culture and to maximise the potential leverage it offers in realising its goals going forward.

The Action Plan shows that the UNFPA intends over this current period of activity (2010-2013) to make use of more effective performance management approaches for the success of the organisation in meetings its overall goals. It will combine awareness of key Afghan cultural obstacles and the attempt to adapt them for the UNFPA’s mandate. It intends to reach out to the essentially politically disenfranchised youth, where discussion of reproductive health issues as well as other questions regarding the overall authority of elders is essentially prohibited, by promoting the participation of young people, and developing ‘advocacy materials for youth leaders… religious leaders and the general public on the participation of… young people’ (p. 16). The Action Plan includes the provision of the ‘tools’ to stakeholders for the planning and monitoring of UNFPA concerns. Reflecting performance management’s emphasis on mentoring stakeholders for greater success in meeting organisational goals in the long-run, the UNFPA plans to expand the ‘training’ of adolescents, religious leaders and community elders to act as ‘change agents’ to advocate for the benefits of empowering women (p. 19). The organisation also hopes to create an ‘enabling environment’ for the socially and culturally excluded through ‘dialogue’ with decision makers, gender-sensitive life-skills-based education, particularly for young women, and ‘youth friendly’ sexual and reproductive health services (p. 14). The overall strategy essentially revolves around ‘establishing partnerships with key stakeholders’ (p. 16) while maintaining the organisation’s traditional role in developing national strategies.

The Action Plan elaborates a culturally sensitive way of adapting Afghan socio-cultural realities towards meeting the UNFPA’s aims as regards increasing the participation of women in local decision-making and developing self-reliance that have a bearing on issues of reproductive health. Under the slogan of ‘healthy family, fortunate society’ the UNFPA astutely will attempt to link the traditional Afghan focus on the household and its honour in the community with the notion of women taking a more empowered role within it on matters regarding reproductive health and certain economic matters, for the benefit of both households and the community as a whole. This advocacy strategy will not only aim at helping women and girls ‘identify opportunities to improve their livelihoods’ but also to sensitise, through knowledge sharing and advocacy meetings, key community ‘gatekeepers’ such as religious leaders and teachers in the ‘importance of the role of women in building sustainable livelihoods’ (p. 19).

It is apparent that Afghan cultural realities were a significant break on the realisation of the UNFPA’s goals in the first few years of its activity following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Many of the issues that it seeks to highlight are simply taboo in Afghan life, and it is only progressively that the UNFPA has more fully recognised the need to work with Afghan authority figures to advocate for a positive appreciation of women’s contribution to public and local life that can still fit with the traditional Afghan socio-cultural framework focusing on the honour and strength of the household within the community. The UNFPA has also moved somewhat away from its established national, technocratic planning approach – one in many ways frustrated by the geo-political fragmentation and unique socio-cultural resilience characterising Afghanistan – to adapting and collaborating with those groups culturally marginalised in Afghan life, by developing life skills for women and encouraging the independence of youth, and in the process increasing general familiarity with the UNFPA’s emphasis on certain rights. In this process of organisational adaptation, the main emphases of performance management have been central; that, ultimately, organisations must work closely with customers and clients, and attempt to keep all stakeholders and their interests in balance. The training of adolescents and religious leaders to act as ‘change agents’ and battening the empowerment of women to the success of a household and the community are key examples how the UNFPA has subsequently attempted to balance all stakeholder interests and work closely, and even mentor, those with whom the organisation interacts on the ground. Organisations cannot only operate in a top-down manner, and this may be a fair description of the UNFPA’s activities in its early Afghan involvement, but it is now clearly benefiting from a more collaborative performance management relationship between the client and the representative on the ground, and with those with managerial responsibility for the strategic direction of the organisation.

Chapter 5: Performance Management at the UNFPA

As is clear in the last chapter, culture in Afghanistan has had an organisational impact on the UNFPA, particularly pronounced in the first years of its post-Taliban involvement in the country, but the organisation has adapted to this cultural reality and has even laid out in its 2010 Action Plan aspirations to leverage the Afghan socio-cultural situation as a means to help realise its long term organisational goals. Part of the UNFPA’s success in making this adjustment lies in its embrace of ‘cultural sensitivity,’ which is, crucially, reinforced by it sophisticated Performance Appraisal and Development (PAD) processes, which take full inspiration from performance management emphases on planning, constant dialogue and development. It can be no accident that the UNFPA’s adjustment to Afghan cultural realities has come about in an organisation with strong performance management processes; indeed the first item of the PAD’s checklist of performance indicators recommended for supervisors is the staff member’s ‘cultural sensitivity.’

The 2011 PAD Guide produced by the Human Resources division of the UNFPA in New York provides valuable evidence as to the workings of the organisation’s performance management process. The Guide is very clear on the overall aims of such a process, namely to support the ‘UNFPA’s transformation into an open, transparent and results-oriented organisation that promotes better leadership, management, advocacy, teamwork, knowledge sharing, learning and cultural sensitivity’ (UNFPA PAD Guide January 2011). Evidently, the UNFPA has accepted the premise of performance management that its use can lead to organisational success in terms of meeting goals, an institution that can deliver ‘results’. Performance management’s focus on dialogue between various concerned parties (not only hierarchically) can lead to better ‘institutional knowledge’ within an organisation, which ultimately can allow the organisation to keep up to date with its area of operation, and introduce a flexibility that permits it to operate with the maximum of cultural sensitivity.

The Guide outlines some immediate aims of the PAD process: to enable more focused coaching by supervisors through individual staff member competencies; to draw on a range of feedback sources from other stakeholders, not just team members (providing the ‘360 degree’ feedback that performance management encourages); and, ultimately, to align staff more closely with the organisation’s priorities and goals. The UNFPA’s PAD process is thus directly anticipated to provide a holistic marrying of individual employee performance with the organisation’s broader mission, as Richard Williams and other academic specialists on performance management have stressed.

The UNFPA’s PAD works in three stages: planning, a mid-year progress review and a year-end appraisal, and then the process is begun again in an on-going cycle of collaborative assessment and development. Throughout the working year, there is also the expectation of continual feedback and coaching. The planning stage is based on the UNFPA’s Strategic Plan, from which organisational priorities are established. Each individual organisational unit (i.e. particular branches or offices) at headquarters or in the field then elaborate their own Office Management Plan (OMP) as part of their ‘role in contributing to these high-level objectives’ (UNFPA PAD Guide January 2011). What is significant about these OMPs is that they do not only outline the expected outputs and activities for the organisational unit, but also they directly identify the individual ‘staff members responsible for their achievement’ (UNFPA PAD Guide Jaunary 2011). Reading this process back, it is possible to see that as a consequence individual performance is closely aligned to the organisational unit’s activities, and which, in turn, ultimately fit closely with the UNFPA’s overall organisational priorities. There is cohesion from the top-down and from the bottom-up. The management plans can, therefore, be understood as a lynchpin of the organisation’s activities, translating the UNFPA’s mission to its management strategy down to the activities of individual staff members. The result, as is anticipated by the literature on performance management, is that it helps ‘staff to understand their contribution in a wider context’ (the employee’s ‘clear line of sight’) and, echoing Houldsworth’s confidence that it can ‘harness the individual [employee] to the organisation as a whole,’ the OMP ‘makes them feel part of the organisation’ (UNFPA PAD Guide January 2011).

The UNFPA see the planning stage as essential for establishing ‘personal accountability’ and to ensure staff working in a complex bureaucratic entity nevertheless ‘focus on the desired [organisational] results’ (UNFPA PAD Guide January 2011). The planning can include emphases on internal streamlining initiatives, but the primary focus is the targeting of work specific to projects such as the preparation of a resource mobilisation strategy. Planning also encourages the innovation of new ideas, such as ‘knowledge-sharing ideas plans and networks’ (ibid.), which clearly reinforces the growth of ‘institutional knowledge’ and organisational best practice. During the planning stage, the benchmarks of output achievement are also defined in collaboration with supervisors, which are to be achievable, within the staff member’ responsibility and control. The emphasis is on both quantitative (‘hard’) and qualitative (‘soft’) indicators of achievement.

It is also during the planning stage that feedback sources are identified. The Guide states that these should not only be team-members but could include ‘other UN agencies with whom the staff member works closely to achieve the stated output.’ One other key feedback source is the ‘Resident Coordinator’ who directly oversees the entire UN effort in a given country such as Afghanistan. The Resident Coordinator meets regularly with all UN agencies, and other NGOs and civil society and political representatives, and so would be an excellent source of information about the performance of individual staff and teams of the UNFPA. It seems, though, that there is no provision for feedback from the direct beneficiaries of the UNFPA’s activities and coaching initiatives.

Thus in the planning stage, supervisors and staff agree on the individual staff member’s targets, competencies and feedback sources. This is conducted in an ‘atmosphere of trust’. It is expected that as a result, the supervisor has explained and clarified performance expectations, and that the staff member keeps track of their own progress in respect of individual and broader performance standards. This dialogue reinforces ‘mutual expectations between the staff member and the supervisor’ (INFPA PAD Guide January 20110, and, in particular, enables the supervisor through greater awareness of individual competencies to provide more focused coaching and development as the working year progresses.

The next stage of the PAD is the mid-year review. This allows flexibility and adjustments to be made to the original planning in the light of progress made and unexpected challenges and considerations. In dialogue with the supervisor, the staff member’s progress is assessed and priorities for the remainder of the year evaluated, and any changes to the original planned outputs, competencies and even feedback sources are agreed. This mid-year review can also provide an opportunity to discuss the provision of extra resources to meet new challenges. The last stage is the Year-End Appraisal; staff are assessed in terms of how fully they achieved their output aims and how proficiently they executed their competencies. The conclusions made and feedback acquired then form part of the next year’s planning, and so the performance management continues in a form of virtuous circle.

The Year-End appraisal also has very important implications for ‘organisational learning’ for the UNFPA as a whole. Not only does it provide senior supervisors with the means to recognise the highest calibre staff – in both qualitative and quantitative terms – whose promotion has benefits for the organisation’s on-going adaptation and performance, but it also allows the organisation’s leadership to draw conclusions and make changes in the organisation’s behaviour. The Year-End appraisal results are studied by the Performance Review Group of the UNFPA’s Executive Committee, during which the ‘emphasis shifts from reviewing and complementing the performance appraisal of the supervisor, to the implications of the appraisal results (UNFPA PAD Guide January 2011). The Review Group looks for ‘competency gaps on an organisational basis’; assesses the impact of work on the ground and as an organisation as a whole; areas for development to serve the needs of both individual staff and the UNFPA; and to stress the ‘importance of continuous learning and development’ (ibid.). The end result of the PAD process can be, therefore, the learning of lessons for the organisation as a whole, and substantial changes in strategic direction. This is an unexpected finding of the research for this dissertation, as the literature mostly stresses how performance management works to harness the individual employee to a business’s overall goals; at the UNFPA, though, performance management can also lead to significant institutional learning and high-level conclusions on adaptations and development.

The UNFPA’s Recognition and Rewards policy also promotes institutional learning and horizontal transfer of knowledge. The January 2010 policy document confirms the PAD’s emphasis on encouraging the meeting of its overall goals, to recognise those staff members who achieve ‘organisational priorities’. Recognition at the UNFPA also means providing opportunities to those seen as having ‘knowledge in a relevant area’ to be involved in ‘key meetings, missions or challenging assignments.’ This both spread knowledge throughout the organisation, but also gives the individual staff member the opportunity for further development. Another form of recognition, including for locally recruited staff, are to be invited to represent their office or team on certain projects and missions, all with the intended result of providing their ‘greater visibility within UNFPA (UNFPA, Policies and Procedures Manual, Rewards and Recognitions, January 2010). The UNFPA also has ‘Awards for Excellence’, the criteria for which are quite significant. These are given for ‘outstanding initiatives in delivering the organisation’s programmes and services’ which lead to ‘achievement of concrete results’ and ‘significant effect on external stakeholders’ (ibid.). Thus, the UNFPA rewards and encourages its staff to make lasting changes and impacts on those it works with and those it works for. This qualitative, client-focused emphasis surely encouraged staff to develop lasting relationships with the beneficiaries of its activities in Afghanistan, and to overcome its cultural obstacles.

Performance management at the UNFPA has clearly, then, reinforced a focus on organisational results and delivery, and bringing individual staff – local and international – into the organisation’s working culture and overall goals. But in addition to the employee behavioural focus of the literature, performance management at the UNFPA can also lead through the participation of the Executive Committee for lessons to be learned for the organisation as a whole, and different strategic approaches to be made and missing competencies filled. The PAD’s use of feedback from other UN agencies, and indirectly from other NGOs via the country Resident Coordinator must have highlighted the lack of inter-organisational cooperation and coordination, and may well have contributed to the recent inter-agency commitment to ‘Deliver as One’ in Daikundi. The PAD’s qualitative emphases may also have favoured the greater organisational move in recent years towards using life-skills and other socio-cultural ‘entry points’ in order to meet the UNFPA’s goals for lasting behaviour change in Afghanistan, in addition to its on-going remit of providing a national reproductive health strategy and basic services.

Chapter 6 The Results of the UNFPA’s Organisational Performance in the Afghan Cultural Context.

It is apparent that the UNFPA, as well as many other agencies at work in Afghanistan, did not initially make successful adaptations to the Afghan cultural context, and that this has had serious consequences for the efficacy of their first interventions and has even tarnished the image of such agencies to the point that the more culturally adaptive initiatives now being introduced may not go far enough to win increasingly deteriorating local popular support. The June 2011 report provided by the UN Secretary-General on ‘The Situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security’ indicates that even in the relatively secure eastern and central regions of Afghanistan, where the UNFPA is focusing the bulk of its efforts, increasing tensions are evident with the incidence of combined demonstrations in many mosques, universities and urban centres, which indicates a ‘wider public discontent’ and marks a ‘departure from the previous sporadic demonstrations against the international civil and military presence and raises serious concern’ to the point that there is the ‘possibility of orchestrated violent rioting against the international community.’(Report of the Secretery-General, General Assembly, 65th Session, Item 38, The Situation in Afghanistan, 27 June 2011, p. 7). Indeed, there has already been an increase in armed attacks in north and north-east regions by ‘infiltrators,’ who presumably need the shelter of a more supportive local population than hitherto; in the more unstable south and western regions it has also recently become apparent that ‘certain organisations that previously enjoyed good access [to local communities] have seen that access diminished’ (ibid, p. 11).

Organisational improvements have though been made in the area of inter-agency cooperation (which was lamentably absent during the first years of reconstruction), an emphasis on stakeholder dialogue that is encouraged by Performance Management and the UNFPA’s own current Personal Appraisal and Development (PAD) processes. As the Secretary-General reports, ‘notable improvements’ have been made in the area of ‘health, with progressive donor coordination processes resulting in the better leveraging of resources and more coordinated donor/Government policy dialogue’ (ibid., p. 8). A question mark remains, though, over the efficacy of the UNFPA’s key function of providing statistical survey data of the country’s population in order for effective health planning, and after a decade of work within Afghanistan. As a 2012 report into its own experimental census of one province – Bamiyan – confesses, there has been up until now a ‘vacuum of vital data’ on the Afghan population for planning and policy decisions (Bamiyan Socio-Demographic and Economic Survey, April 2012, p. 2). This survey of Bamiyan – while hardly throwing up significant variations on family size on so on estimated for the Afghan population on average – does, in its accuracy, detail and moreover geographical comprehensiveness – represent a significant belated success for the UNFPA and its health planning goals. Within this successful process, it is also clear that Performance Management principles have been deployed; around 500 local Bamiyan residents were employed as surveyors and controllers, who were trained closely by technical supervisors, and who clarified the ‘concepts and procedures’ of the survey (ibid., p. 4). It was from this well-managed, performance-oriented approach within the socio-cultural reality on the ground, incorporating local staff into the organisation’s priorities, that the UNFPA was able to succeed organisationally in providing accurate and complete information from albeit one part of a notoriously intractable country.

The UNFPA’s 2012 Report does illustrate that cultural lessons have now been learned, and that the organisation during this current, third (2010-2013) phase of activity, has begun a much broader series of culturally adaptive processes to realising its goal that either directly result from the kind of initiatives the UNFPA’s PAD encourages, or indirectly echo Performance Management (PM) approaches in how local staff, beneficiaries and other stakeholders are approached as cultural ‘entry points.’ Through PM, the UNFPA has thus made a transition from being culturally blocked in Afghanistan to now using the cultural situation to its advantage in raising awareness in support of its concerns on, women, youth and associated issues of Reproductive Health (RH). The UNFPA is now approaching this in three key cultural areas: working within communities to demonstrate the economic and health contribution of women, thereby empowering them while earning local respect; by using cultural norms – in particular the close referencing of the Koran in support of particular types of behaviour – to change the attitudes of cultural and community ‘gatekeepers’ such as religious leaders, tribal elders and even the police, and training them to act as internal cultural ‘agents of change’; and, finally, working in dialogue with youth, and training key figures to effect change on attitudes to women and sexual health. This approach, ultimately, embodies the key lessons on performance management which is to get close to the client, to train and work in dialogue, keeping the interests of all stakeholders in balance as much as possible.

One effective new approach that has been recently piloted in selected provinces is to encourage the ‘community ownership’ of midwifery services, which are intended not only to make a real difference on the ground in terms of access to certain basic health and knowledge, but also to empower the local women involved in this provision within the community. Local literate girls and women, particularly from the more outlying settlements are trained centrally in midwifery, and then on return to their villages are supported periodically by mobile health teams as well as a regional Afghan council (shura) on health. At the heart of this policy’s ‘conceptual framework’ (ibid., p. 16) is a typically PM focus on a ‘developmental approach for continued education i.e. on the job training, mentoring, and supportive supervision.’ The Report cites the experience of one young Afghan woman, Maliha Moserat, trained in midwifery, and who now works in a local health clinic, where ‘she helps an average 25 women from her village through their pregnancies and delivery each month’ (ibid., p. 14). This has had an empowering effect, as she comments that ‘it is a huge responsibility to give care to these women and save their lives, but I feel lucky to have this opportunity to help other women’ (ibid.). The Report states that ‘one important result of this initiative is the empowerment of women (trained as midwives) from remote rural communities, making them significant contributors to their communities rather than a liability’ (p. 18). Working within the Afghan cultural framework of household (namus) and community value, this role will ‘enhance their prestige and social status’ – maybe even perceptions of their honour, or ezzat – and ‘cause attitude and behaviour change… acknowledging [women’s] ability to be active contributors to their families and communities’ (ibid).

The UNFPA, ultimately, fully anticipates that there is cultural leverage to be made out of this training of local Afghan women: ‘the midwife’s familiarity with local culture, traditions and culture, traditions and customs, and community members will ensure her acceptability, and she will become an inspiration for others in her community symbolising in her person, the advantage of the education of girls’ (ibid., p. 18). The community ownership approach on rural midwifery support intends not only to improve basic health provision but also in the process have cumulative effects in cultural change, combining and making realisable two key organisational goals of the UNFPA: reproductive healthcare improvements and the recognition of the rights of women.

The Secretary-General’s Afghanistan Report of July 2011 highlighted on-going problems with the treatment of women by local authorities and Afghan social bodies. It noted that ‘where the justice system presence is weak, the authorities continue to refer most complaints of domestic violence and cases of running away from home to traditional dispute mechanisms’ (Report of the Secretery-General, General Assembly, 65th Session, Item 38, The Situation in Afghanistan, 27 June 2011, p. 6). Often the response of community leaders and police to girls and women running away from abuse is to treat such behaviour as the ‘crime’ of adultery. The Report noted that women still continue to be arrested and prosecuted for running away despite a new Afghan Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women. The Report even commented on the continued negative social attitudes towards such women on the part of those civil society groups responsible for running women’s protection centres, which ‘raised questions about… the extent to which women’s rights would be protected (ibid., p. 5). (The UNFPA report also suggests similar traditional attitudes and approaches still persist towards youth on the part of the personnel at youth and health centres.)

The UNFPA’s initiatives to meliorate the continued presence of negative cultural attitudes has been firstly to emphasise a more PM-related more holistic, client-focused approach to service providers within the community. The UNFPA has started training local healthcare providers to see violence against women not merely as a social issue but as one with a direct bearing on health, to question their own attitudes on the subject, and to act as a participant of the community. By raising ‘community awareness, especially among male community members and youth’ about the ‘ill-effects’ of violence against women it is anticipated that they will then in turn act as ‘agents of attitude change’ (p. 26). The UNFPA is also working to train staff in ‘youth friendly’ attitudes, as often the persistence of negative cultural assumptions has constrained the provision of needed health services or advice. The organisation supports Youth Information Centres to train ‘volunteers as peer educators for dispersing [sexual and reproductive health] information and awareness among their other youth’ (p. 45). This strategy is about reaching out more credibly via agents within the community as the ‘credibility within their target group [coming from the commonality in background and shared interests and experiences] is an important base upon which successful peer education is built’ (ibid.)

Also the UNFPA has tried to work leverage culture to its own advantage. Often the success of conservative social and cultural figures, and even earlier the Taliban, in obtaining a degree of popular support, has rested on narrow interpretations of the Koran, which is a central source of authority for behaviour and conduct for most Afghans. The UNFPA has attempted to use this cultural device to forward its own counter attitudes on the unacceptability of violence towards women, amongst those key groups responsible for maintaining such a social environment, namely local religious leader, tribal and community leaders, and the Afghan police. The UNFPA supported the formulation of training manual for Afghan police on the issues surrounding violence against women; significantly, ‘all content in the manual’ references ‘quotations from the Holy Quran and the ‘Ahadiths’ (teachings of the Holy Prophet Mohammed…)’ which, the Report claims, will make it ‘relevant and acceptable and usable in the local [cultural] context’ (p. 27).

The UNFPA 2012 Report states that one of its greatest ‘achievements in its partnership with [the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs] were in… the mobilisation and training of religious leaders for prevention of Gender Based Violence from the perspective of Islamic teachings from the Quran and ‘Ahadiths’ (life and teaching of the Holy Prophet Mohammed)’ (p. 31). The UNFPA and the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs expect this to ‘go a long way in educating local preachers and [thereby] common people for preventing different forms of violence against women, including early and forced marriages’ (ibid.) It seems that this is having a successful impact in line with the UNFPA’s organisational goals: the 2012 Report quotes one religious leader, Mohammed Ewaz Fahimi, who had attended a three day training on this matter, and said ‘we are a Muslim nation, and Afghan men should learn about how Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) treated his wives with respect and love. It is against Islam to inflict any form of physical violence on your wife, sister or mother’ (p. 32). It was his opinion that much of the violence stemmed from the fact that many men and women marry unwillingly, but that, as he stated, ‘Islam requires a woman and man to know each other and consent to marry each other’ (ibid.).

Thus, organisations such as the UNFPA in Afghanistan initially poorly adapted to the Afghan socio-cultural context, to the point that a general popular impatience towards the international community has recently begun to manifest itself even in the more stable parts of the country. However, through its own Performance Management emphases on stakeholder dialogue and qualitative as much as quantitative performance indicators, the UNFPA has begun to make a clearly more effective use of alternative cultural ‘entry points’ with whom the organisation also employs key PM techniques of training and coaching. Successes in creating new agents for change within traditional Afghan cultural frameworks, in particular that of the honour of the household and the economic contribution of women within the community, and training in UNFPA goal-supportive Koranic teachings, promise even greater results in the future. It is however unfortunate that it has taken a decade for such adaptations to be really made and felt, and hopefully this has not been at the expense of on-going tolerance by large parts of the Afghan population of the continued presence of international agencies in their country.

Chapter 7: Conclusions

[This is preliminary and indicative only; dependent on any additional findings that will be included]

It is clear from the findings of this dissertation and the description of the changes over time of the UNFPA’s activities, particularly on the basis of its self-confessed ‘lessons learnt’ that many organisations in Afghanistan, including the UNFPA, made a delayed adaptation to the Afghan socio-cultural context and that this had a significant impact on the UNFPA’s abilities to meet its organisational goals of a nationwide reproductive health strategy and to enhance the rights of women. This finding amply confirms a principal contention of this dissertation that the cultural context has a significant influence on organisational performance, and that organisations ignore it at their peril.

However, the analysis of the UNFPA’s more recent activity suggests that culture is indeed not a static entity, that it can be elastic, and even used and leveraged collaboratively by organisations in realising their goals and missions. The UNFPA’s ‘community ownership’ strategies and the seeking out of local cultural ‘points of access’ and ‘change agents’ from amongst literate women, religious figures, even policemen, work intelligently within traditional Afghan cultural frameworks, such as the honour of the household within the community or by grafting women’s rights onto Koranic teachings, to have a cumulative effect in influencing attitudes by example from within Afghan villages and society more broadly. This recent turn in UNFPA approaches – in conjunction with its longstanding skills in national surveying and health planning – promise long term changes for women’s rights in line with its organisational goals, provided the political environment remains broadly accepting of international humanitarian involvement.

This organisational adjustment has, finally, partly come about because of the Performance Management (PM) emphases within the UNFPA as an organisation. PM’s stress on mentoring and dialogue, the continuous development of staff and liaison with all forms of stakeholders, is evident not only in the training of ‘change agents’ and the results coming from culturally sensitive dialogue and advocacy with other key gatekeepers such as religious leaders, but also in the processes used to induct local staff, and those with mission experience in the field, into the organisation’s working culture and to spread knowledge and ideas horizontally and vertically throughout the institution. As the literature theorised, the PM approaches at the UNFPA were aimed linking individual work – in a qualitative fashion – to the organisation’s strategic aims, but a surprising finding has also been that, in contrast to the literature’s focus on how PM can harness the individual to the organisation, the UNFPA’s own PAD process can also in addition lead, coming from the executive leadership, to positive adaptations in behaviour and new strategic directions for the organisation as a whole.


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