Magazine article Government Finance Review

Performance Deficit: Why Public Managers Need to Focus on It: Public Executives Face Multiple Performance Deficits. by Focusing on a Few Key Ones, They Can Drive Their Agency to Do the Analytic Work Necessary to Learn Their Causes and the Operational Work Necessary to Eliminate Them

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Performance Deficit: Why Public Managers Need to Focus on It: Public Executives Face Multiple Performance Deficits. by Focusing on a Few Key Ones, They Can Drive Their Agency to Do the Analytic Work Necessary to Learn Their Causes and the Operational Work Necessary to Eliminate Them

Article excerpt

Today, all public agencies have performance measures--lots of performance measures. They have to. Their stakeholders want measures. The legislature is insisting on measures. The budget office is requiring measures. Today, if you are a public executive, you need to have some performance measures.

In fact, the more, the better. If my budget shop or legislature was demanding performance measures, I would ask: "How many do you want?" Then, I would give them three or four times as many

Why? Because some of these many measures will always go up. I can take credit for this. Sure, some measures will go down. But, I can offer logical explanations (call them excuses) for why this happened.

Next year, of course, different measures will go up; different measures will go down. So, I will take credit for the ones that have improved: "See, I responded to your concerns, shifted my priorities, and the results demonstrate my leadership." And I will offer new, creative explanations for the measures that have gone in the wrong direction.

The more measures a public agency has, the easier it is for its managers to claim that they are doing something. Of course, with more measures, it is easier for critics to claim that these managers are doing little.

Neither will be wrong or right. Indeed, with too many measures--and it doesn't take very many measure to have too many--it is impossible to determine whether the agency is improving or not. For while some of the measures are inevitably going down, others will (unless the agency is wholly incompetent) be going up. For the public manager with many measures, these probabilities obscure cause-and-effect relationships and thus provide protection.

To improve--and to demonstrate that it is improving--the agency needs some performance targets. Such targets not only provide a standard against which to measure success. They also motivate people and , when achieve, provide a sense of accomplishment.

But how many targets? Not too many. Maybe just one or two.

And how can an agency's managers choose their targets? This depends upon the agency's "performance deficit:" the most significant aspect of its work that needs to be improved?

Every organization has performance deficits--the places along its value chain (from inputs to processes to outputs to outcome) where it is doing an inadequate job. For a firm that is manufacturing cars of inferior quality a performance deficit might be the design of the car itself, or the design of the production line. It might be the quality of the ignition system that its vendor is supplying or sloppy work on the production line. To improve its performance, the firm needs to identify and eliminate its key deficits.

The mission of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is "to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world." Straightforward enough. Yet, this mission statement provides no basis for measuring or managing performance.

What performance measure is mot useful? One might be deaths from airplane accidents. …

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