Results Act here to stay

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.


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