Results Act here to stay
- By Steve Kelman
- Jun 26, 2000
Probably the biggest enemy of constructive change in organizations is the
natural human tendency to get restless and bored.
What do I mean by this perhaps cryptic pronouncement?
Among the most important enablers of organizational change are the interest
and attention of top management. The changes top management wants will get
done more often than not, as long as leaders remain committed to the changes
long enough to incorporate them into the organization's daily workings.
That's a big "if," though. People often get bored with working to make
something happen before they've spent enough time to see it to fruition.
This applies especially to leaders because they have so many items on their
plates and because they must encourage others to accomplish their goals.
Those who aren't enamored of changes seek to "wait out" the loss of attention — or the departure — of leaders seeking change.
The "this too shall pass" constituency has been heartened by recent
headlines about the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the law
designed to bring performance measurement to government. Around the time
agencies issued their first annual performance plans under GPRA, Federal
Computer Week ran an article "GPRA: Out of Reach" (April 3). The article
inappropriately, in my view, mixed a discussion of the difficulty of developing
business cases for IT investments with material about performance measures
in general, which are often not subject to those same problems.
Government Executive magazine recently ran an article, "The Results
Act is dead," which was mostly, though not exclusively, based on the observation
that the Clinton administration conducted no public relations rollout for
agency annual reports.
Has restlessness claimed another victim? Well, the results-resisting
constituency shouldn't breathe too easy. Vice President Al Gore, head of
the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, still has performance
measurement on his agenda. And Texas, home to Gov. George W. Bush, is one
of the leading states for performance measurement.
Performance measurement could still die as a result of leadership boredom.
But I believe public dissatisfaction with government performance will continue
to make performance measurement part of the way many agencies do business.
GPRA's role in budget submissions continues to increase, and the Senate
Governmental Affairs Committee will for the first time hold joint hearings
with the Appropriations Committee on agency results.
Developing performance measures to manage an agency on a daily basis
is the most important management reform that can happen in government. These
headlines risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believing that top management
has lost interest will encourage any agency's results-resisting constituency
to continue to slow progress. And slower progress will then discourage top
management from staying the course.
We shouldn't let this happen.
—Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993
to 1997, is Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's John
F. Kennedy School of Government.