Being a performance manager
- By Steve Kelman
- Jan 23, 2000
Recently I taught in an executive education program that the Kennedy School
conducted for senior General Accounting Office managers. My topic was performance
measurement, especially the kind envisioned by the Government Performance
and Results Act (GPRA), the 1993 legislation designed to move agencies to
use performance measurement to improve overall government performance.
We started with a private-sector case, namely the credit card division
that AT&T launched in the early 1990s. The organization took seriously
performance measures relating to customer satisfaction and even internal
activities that they believed related to profits the division would ma
looked at the aggressive crime performance measures — by geography, time
of day and type of crime — the New York Police Department introduced during
the 1990s, which have been associated with a larger-than-elsewhere decline
Managers at each organization received measurements daily and used them
in interacting with their people.
Many in the class believed that was overkill. So I asked them: In federal
agencies for which the GAO managers had oversight responsibility, did they
believe agency managers looked at performance measures collected for GPRA
performance plans too often, about the right frequency or not often enough?
Or did they know the answer to the question? Most responded, "don't know
the answer to the question."
GAO is proud of its role in GPRA implementation, as it should be. Knowledge
about GPRA among senior GAO managers in this session was high. But because
of GPRA's focus on developing agency strategic and performance plans, GAO's
role has been limited mostly to reacting to paper documents rather than
working to convince agencies to use performance measures.
It is an open question whether GPRA will improve agency performance.
Anybody who knows Washington, D.C., knows what the failure path looks like:
GPRA becomes a "drill," assigned to low-level staff who communicate with
counterparts in GAO and the Office of Management and Budget, pass around
stacks of paper and keep performance measurement insulated from the everyday
activities of the organization.
For GPRA to work, we need to move from performance measurement to
performance management. Managing the use of performance measures provides
a tool to improve agency results. For individual employees, working to achieve
goals motivates better performance. For managers, performance measures help
them know what to nag employees about.
The good news from the executive education sessions was that there is
almost unanimity at GAO that it needs to focus on pushing agencies to use
performance information to manage — as well as to examine — trends in agency
performance measures. That's heartening for anybody who hopes for high-performance
— Kelman was the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy
form 1993 to 1997. He is now Weatherhead Professor of Public Management
at Harvard University's School of Government.