(Not) Managing Performance in the Federal Government (or Any Organization)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a study of Federal agencies’ reported use of performance information.  The study was mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010, which required agencies to collect and report performance information.

An Oct. 14, 2014 article in Government Executive, “Why Isn’t Performance Information Being Used?”, by the IBM Center for the Business of Government’s John Kamensky, looks at the report and its implications, concluding that “[i]t may be time to rethink the strategies for how best to encourage federal managers to use performance information in their jobs.”

As I see it, the problem federal agencies are experiencing is no different from that experienced by leaders of private and social sector organizations who try to use performance measures, or key performance indicators (KPIs), to help manage their organizations more effectively.  Developing and implementing the performance measures can be a difficult, even painful, process in any organization that can often turn off staff from ever using a performance management system.  However, once that work is done, it is critical that executives and managers analyze and use the performance data they gather, otherwise, all of the hard work developing the measures was for nothing.



This report and article are relevant to me because I attended a client’s annual strategic planning offsite meeting a few weeks ago where a similar issue arose.  Among all of the good-natured jesting about the consultant who was “forcing” the company to implement the Balanced Scorecard strategy management framework, the CEO told his team that the just agreed-to set of performance measures was not the end of their work.  Rather, he said, it will all have been a waste of our time if we do not analyze and use the information we get from our performance measures.I could not have agreed more.  I told him that his leadership is critical to instituting the governance and culture change necessary to get his company to use the performance information.  The key, I continued, would be for him to set the expectation that on a regular basis—whether it would be monthly or quarterly was not yet established—the leadership team would meet to discuss the performance information and make key strategic decisions based on it.

The GAO report reached a conclusion similar to the position I stated to the CEO: That training managers on how to analyze and use performance information – rather than just developing the performance measures – was more important in getting them to use it in the end.