Magazine article Government Finance Review

Overcoming Challenges to Implementing Performance Management

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Overcoming Challenges to Implementing Performance Management

Article excerpt

Governments across the United States and Canada are debating how to best provide services at prices citizens are willing to pay, and that means difficult decisions about the best way to fund services, or whether to fund them at all. Elected officials are responsible for making many of these decisions, and managers are ultimately left to deliver on expanded needs and expectations with far fewer resources than were available in the past.

At the same time, governments are also shifting to performance-based systems, a change that is all but required to meet the complex problems governments face at all levels. In fact, all governments are probably practicing some form of performance management--it is simply unavoidable. They struggle, however, with adopting a formal, government-wide approach that allows the organization as a whole to benefit from what initially might be a number of disparate efforts.

While performance management alone is not a cure-all, it does provide something valuable--a tool elected officials and managers can use to provide context and to evaluate the effectiveness of programs. Performance management helps keep governments accountable and transparent to the public, and it provides the capability for improvement and learning. These benefits are indisputable. Case study after case study has shown the transformative effects of performance management on organizations (in both the private and public sector).' Change is never easy, however, and this article explores eight key challenges to overcome in implementing performance management. (2)


1) Overcoming Organizational Fears. Departments and agencies can be apprehensive about using performance measures, worrying that unfavorable results will have negative consequences on funding or jobs. They often claim that what they do can't be measured and might see performance management as a public relations effort to justify services or the department as a whole. In fact, everything can be measured. If current measures don't adequately describe the end result provided by the department, this is not a reason to opt out of the system but an indication that the measures need to be reviewed and changed. Also, when developing a performance management system, the organization must communicate that the purpose of performance management is to learn and improve, not to reward or punish specific results or the achievement of predetermined targets.

2) Overcoming Elected Officials' Fears. Elected officials might have similar fears about how performance data will be used, analyzed, or interpreted by the public. Officials might also be reluctant to support investments in performance management systems if there is no clear and definitive return on the investment (i.e., "performance management has saved us $10 million"). Additionally, elected officials often fear they will lose control and their roles will be diminished. In reality, the opposite is true. For performance management to be effective, elected officials need to make many key decisions to prioritize goals and programs, and to ultimately evaluate if proposed results justify proposed costs. Having performance information doesn't negate the need for decision making--rather, it allows elected officials to have informed and productive conversations and debates about the best policies, strategies, and plans for moving forward.

3) Finding Appropriate Levels of Resources to Devote to the Effort. Performance management can be viewed as a complex, time-consuming task that requires a tremendous effort, given resource constraints. However, performance management does not look the same in every organization. Jurisdictions with 50 employees have developed successful practices that are far different from the practices that work for organizations with tens of thousands of employees. Similarly, not every organization has to invest in expensive technology. …

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