the lectern banner

By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

How agency heads are measuring to manage

measurement tool

In my last blog post, I reported on some results of research that I and Ron Sanders, the former long-time senior civil servant now at Booz Allen Hamilton, have been conducting. Booz Allen is sponsoring our work.

We have interviewed 20 Obama-era agency heads, 10 chosen by good-government experts as examples of outstanding leaders, and 10 more picked at random. In my last post I discussed what we discovered about how these executives approach decision-making.

We also asked them about their personal involvement in efforts to improve performance using performance measures, and in efforts to find efficiency savings in tight budget times. As with the decision-making questions, we didn't want to ask vague questions that would elicit predictable, socially-acceptable responses. We wanted to get to the details. So we asked them, for example, to name specific performance measures they personally followed, or to describe what happened at their most recent meeting to follow up on performance measures in their organizations (if they have such meetings at all).

The answers of both groups – which we also presented recently at Brookings -- showed many similarities, though with some differences. All 10 of the outstanding executives, and nine of the randomly selected ones, could name at least one specific performance measure they followed – though the outstanding ones were able to name a good deal more (an average of more than six for the outstanding executives, compared to only three for the controls). It may be noted, though, that for both groups, most of the measures they named were input or output measures; few were true outcome measures.

All of the outstanding executives and six of the randomly selected ones held meetings at least quarterly to go over the status and discuss ways to move forward on agency performance measures. Four of them held such meetings monthly. Everybody who held such meetings was able to describe in some detail what went on at the most recent such meeting.

Similarly, all 20 of our subjects were able to mention at least one specific example of something they had done to achieve efficiency savings – but again, the average total number of actions cited was greater for outstanding executives than for their randomly chosen colleagues (4.4 vs. 2.6). Most of the areas where these executives sought efficiency savings came out of OMB's standard playbook – such as travel and strategic sourcing – but the outstanding executives were noticeably more likely to choose efficiency savings tailored to the specifics of their agency's mission.

What conclusions do we draw from this? One is that, after surviving as an initiative through three administrations, the use of performance measurement to improve agency performance seems finally to be becoming institutionalized as part of the way senior agency executives do business. The second is that despite the common belief that agency heads are too involved with politics, policymaking, and media to actively manage their agencies, these executives seem, as a group, very much involved in management. Given how depressing politics is these days, that is probably a good way for them to use their time.

Posted on Oct 09, 2013 at 6:48 AM


The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group