Performance
June 13, 2013

A new approach to performance

Colin Talbot’s recent book, Theories of Performance, Organizational and Service Improvement in the Public Domain (Oxford University Press, 2010), offers us a way forward: with better evidence about what works and why, a new approach to performance would improve upon existing models and take full account of public values and the performance regime.

Talbot is professor of public policy and management at the University of Manchester Business School in the U.K. He has consulted widely in several countries, including here in Canada with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat on the development of the Management Accountability Framework (MAF). The book provides a context for MAF, along with other such frameworks from the both the private and public sectors. This alone commends it to the Canadian reader.

The concepts of performance are compared and contrasted. It is a very open approach, presenting a wide range of sources, exposing gaps in knowledge, and asking probing questions. For example, Talbot examines the meaning of the key terms input, output, and outcome by comparing two leading sources: Harry Hatry and the U.K. central and audit agencies. Hatry’s work has been highly influential in the development of performance theory, while the British agencies have issued guidance based on agreed-upon definitions. Talbot found interesting differences between them, an approach that sharpens understanding while revealing confusion and imprecision that needs attention.

The book takes us through the evolution of thinking in the field. Sorting out the enormous variety and scope of the different approaches to performance measurement is one of its best features. Beginning with the focus on organizational effectiveness, we progress through the excellence, quality and culture movement, to the current day profusion of performance models.

Professor Talbot explains the antecedents of MAF, from both the private and public sectors. MAF is a “multidimensional” model; it falls within a family of performance models that include several areas of performance. In this regard it moved beyond models of organizational effectiveness that emphasized a single ultimate criterion, such as productivity. One source was the service quality movement, notably frameworks from the private sector that argued for consideration of “soft” factors, such as skills and values, as well as the “hard” factors of strategy, systems and structures. Much of this thinking was reflected in the Canada Awards for Excellence, another model that inspired MAF.

Talbot looks at the attributes of these frameworks and models. He considers the available evidence about how well they work. Often there is not much to support some of the most important claims. For example, the models often present “enablers” or “drivers,” on the assumption that progress in these areas will produce better results. Yet little has been done by way of validation. Moreover, causal relationships between the components may be implied, but are rarely further explained or supported.

To be fair, Talbot does not examine the various models or frameworks in detail. There are just too many of them. For example, the Five Year Evaluation of the MAF (2008) is not considered.

Talbot recognizes the strengths of performance frameworks. Overall, he sees a progression from one major explanatory variable, to multivariate, and then multi-dimensional models. Yet to come are groupings of multi-dimensional models in an overarching framework. This takes us to the central theme of the book: the importance of public values and the performance regime for such an overarching framework.

While Talbot lists “values” as one of the areas that most frequently appear in performance frameworks, the question of public value is different. It is who values what kind of performance and why, and it clearly affects the way facts are interpreted. In this regard, Talbot examines several types of theories, but finds few answers in the available research and evidence.

The performance regime refers to how the governance of public agencies, through institutions and interventions, shape performance. Talbot usefully maps the institutional landscape, and catalogues the approaches that have emerged, ranging from capability reviews to competitive mechanisms. As with values, he finds a lack of empirical work on what actually happens in the interaction between performance regimes and public agencies.

Professor Talbot’s work is well worth the read.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Performance
 
Governments across the world have made great strides toward providing financial...
 
What are the key initiatives to support government innovation and change?...
 
Recently, there has been considerable interest in what is being referred...
 
We are excited to announce that the Dec/Jan issue of CGE...
 
In this episode, J. Richard Jones speaks with registered holistic nutritionist...
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones talks with...
 
Everyone wants to change, become more efficient, and drive better value...
 
A healthy Canadian economy and opportunities outside of North America are...
 
Evaluation may provide information relevant to broader public processes such as...
 
Did your high school valedictorian go on to achieve greatness? High...
 
Compared to audit professionals and their preoccupation with “independence”, evaluation specialists...
 
Having a clear definition of success is one of the key...
 
Does your organization have a very narrow view of what digital...
 
We are happy to share with you the September 2017 issue...
 
The design needed and practiced in government departments and the broader...
 
Behavioural Insights (BI) is a multidisciplinary approach that uses principles and...
 
One of the writers in this month’s issue started a note...
 
The Senate has long been controversial largely because it is unelected...
 
We have all heard the sayings: “Home, sweet home”; “There’s no...
 
The year 2016 saw two critical words circling the halls of...
 
Having the right talent is critical to delivering right results. But...
 
What we do in life echoes in eternity (GLADIATOR (2000) An...
 
An article in The Economist (March 8, 2015) notes that the...
 
Since 2010, experts and academics eager to connect “systems thinking” and...
 
There is already a surging literature on the application of design...
 
“The secret to happiness is to put the burden of proof...
 
In a word: Stocktakes. Mirriam-Webster defines stocktaking as “the act of estimating...
 
Today’s transformative movement towards a more digital and connected government is...
 
You’ve probably heard a lot in recent months about the Phoenix payroll disaster . Between...
 
Contrary to the stereotype of eagerness and politesse, the second Bold...
 
A study conducted by Robert Half, the world’s largest specialized staffing...
 
CFOs around the world are changing – but an EY survey...
 
As an executive you’ve probably experienced frustration when you ask for...
 
The Liberal government is taking steps to rein in the National...
 
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes...
 
Leadership BS By Jeffrey Pfeffer Harper Business, 259 pages, $36.99 If...
 
It almost goes without saying that good governance requires fair and...
 
At first glance, the title may seem counterintuitive. By their very...
 
Every reputable learning institution offers leadership development training nowadays. So why...
 
Executive compensation is considered to be a central component of corporate...
 
Rushing to keep up with deadlines but never getting ahead is...
 
A leader’s credibility begins with personal success. It ends with helping...
 
Written by Donald Farmer Too often, we base Business Intelligence today...
 
Written by  Gail Vallance Barrington Anyone who has commissioned a program...
 
Written by  Patrice Dutil It’s hard to believe we are still...
 
Public sector innovation, once dismissed as a contradiction in terms, is...
 
On May 6, 2014, the Telfer School of Management at the...
 
Whether in the public or private sector, a critical role of...
 
and “”I trust their judgment”” Related posts: Ex...
 
Water is essential to life, yet this resource is not being...
 
Agility is becoming a crucial element of a successful business. Technology...
 
Data is increasingly becoming fundamental to the world we live in....
 
Municipal governments have a number of responsibilities, but chief among them...
 
Last week, Rick Conlow and Doug Watsabaugh wrote in Businessweek that...
 
Colin Talbot’s recent book, Theories of Performance, Organizational and Service Improvement...
 
This time of year the Clerk of the Privy Council puts...
 
The British Columbia Public Service has taken significant steps to implement...
 
On October 29, General Tom Lawson accepted the responsibility of Chief...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.5 May 2007 "…however fast they went, they never...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.2 February 2007 The leadership literature is littered with...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.4 April 2008 “Be In This Place” is...
 
What keeps you up at night? The Institute of Public Administration...
 
As I have approached the end of my term as Auditor...
 
Although a recent international poll indicates that Canada’s public sector is...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 As David Dodge steps down today...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.9 November 2007 Organizational culture plays a strong role...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.8 October 2007 The New Brunswick Department of Transportation...
 
Quote of the week “The job we have here is to...
 
I think the idea that someday the department’s lights will turn...
 
Given the budgetary challenges facing most government organizations, the use of...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
Governments across the world have made great strides toward providing financial...