The Italian public administration has been recently reformed by the law 150/2009, which introduced mandatory principles of performance management as a way to enhance performance in the public sector. Our central hypothesis is that - in order to be effective - such tools cannot be introduced with one-size-fits-all solutions and in the absence of specific management prerequisites. In order to test the hypothesis, the authors conducted a survey including thirty Italian universities, about one third of all Italian higher education institutions. The survey allows to understand the level of development of university administrations (which resulted largely deficient), and permits to inquire the relationship between performance tools and management systems more generally. The analysis confirms the hypothesis, with the main message being that any strategy for successful change needs to be incremental, organization-specific, and not limited to performance tools only.
Keywords: Performance management, higher education, personnel evaluation, reform, public administration.