This research examines the implementation of Ireland’s higher education system performance framework (HESPF), through its first 3-year cycle 2014–2017, in a sample of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In particular, it examines the extent to which the HESPF aids or inhibits HEI planning towards the related national policy objectives. Integral to the HESPF are performance agreements (PAs) that specify how HEI strategies contribute to national priorities. An exploratory case study design frame is used to address the research question, with cases drawn from small, medium-sized and large institutions. A concurrent triangulation design strategy is deployed with qualitative data drawn from 24 key informants and PAs, and quantitative data elicited from 92 questionnaires. Oliver’s strategic response framework was adapted for deployment in the study. The design of the PAs associated with the HESPF is generally consistent with the core building blocks of PAs internationally. The HESPF is generally considered a good concept that has resulted in constructive relationship building between the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and HEIs.' Strategic planning capacity building, self-reflection and institutional learning are regarded as strengths of the process. However, it appears that the levers being used by the HEA to bring about performance improvements are having very little behavioural influence. Reputation and a desire to respond to regional and national needs along with global expectations appear to be driving performance. The process is not operating at a sufficiently strategic level and lack of enabling/incentive funding is regarded as a major weakness.