By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Great discussion on performance measurement

I am currently teaching in the Kennedy School's executive education program for U.S. federal GS-15s and colonels (with a few participants from local government, and from China, New Zealand, Malaysia, and the Philippines to keep us Americans on our toes). I teach a three-class unit on using performance measures to improve government agency performance, and we had the first class of the three-unit sequence on Wednesday.

It was a very lively discussion, and participants brought up a number of examples of experiences they have had using performance measures in their organizations. A senior police manager discussed how his county started measuring (using video technology) inappropriate use of force by police officers. Comparing the numbers in different precincts in the county gave them an idea of where the problems were worst and thus where management attention needed to be concentrated. They used the feedback to devise policy changes and training priorities. They could then track the effects of these changes on performance by looking at the incidence of inappropriate use of force after the changes were made. Performance measurement, by providing feedback, was crucial to being able to learn how to perform better and to see what changes worked and didn't. As I often say to my classes, "Imagine trying to learn to throw darts better if you didn't get any feedback on where the last darts you threw had landed."

Two participants also talked about how, when employees were involved in setting targets or goals on their performance measures, they had actually suggested more aggressive goals that raised the performance bar over time. In one case, employees proposed committing themselves, for example, to more aggressive goals for how quickly they provided help to customers in other government organizations than management had originally suggested. In one agency, each major goal is assigned to an individual owner in charge of tracking it and seeing how important the goal is to the organization's customers.

It was impressive to see how engaged these senior public managers are in using performance measures to drive improved organizational performance -- and, by extension, how engaged they are in delivering on their organizations' missions. I think any outside observer would be impressed by these managers.

Posted by Steve Kelman on May 08, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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