Governing is never easy. And in this century, it’s getting a lot harder. Economic, social, environmental and political forces are constantly changing the landscape. While the public recognizes that governments cannot do everything, they are frequently expected to do more with less. Public sector organizations must manage complex policy portfolios and balance competing priorities, while delivering against ever increasing stakeholder expectations. To operate successfully in this environment, understanding performance is critical.
In working with various ministries, we have seen numerous initiatives launched that are designed to enhance the way performance is managed. These projects often target a single branch or division of a particular ministry. In most cases, these initiatives address challenges that are common to other parts of the same organization. To drive consistent and effective performance across a ministry, the best of these efforts must come together in an integrated performance management framework.
A ministry-wide performance management framework relies on clarity of direction, integrated planning, meaningful performance measures and disciplined implementation.
In a situation where there are powerful stakeholder interests, shifting political agendas and frequent organizational changes, multiple sets of priorities can permeate the same ministry. This creates confusion, impedes decision-making and allows for multiple interpretations of what is important. To address this, leaders must embark on an inclusive process that constructively challenges existing assumptions of organizational purpose and involves a wide range of staff in a disciplined conversation about strategic policy outcomes. Gaining this collective understanding will lead to better decision-making, more appropriate resource allocation and provide staff with clearer sight of how they contribute to organizational success.
An integrated approach to planning will help drive ministry performance by aligning organizational activity to strategic policy outcomes at all levels. Truly integrated planning is appropriately sequenced, supported by a common set of tools and undertaken within a focused timeframe.
In those ministries that have not adopted an integrated planning approach, we have observed situations where one part of the organization is being asked to develop work plans based on the priorities of another even though those priorities have yet to be formalized. Inconsistent planning tools are used across these ministries making it difficult to generate a holistic view of the activities to be undertaken. Finally, their planning processes tend to take place over many months, resulting in budgets being finalized well into their fiscal year.
Insightful performance measures are necessary to understand how successfully an organization is delivering its strategic outcomes. There is a tendency in government to measure too much and not recognize what Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted.” The value of performance measures is a function of the insight they bring, their alignment to the desired outcomes and the efficiency in which they can be generated. Performance measures also play an important role in motivating specific behaviour on the part of staff and stakeholders. Measures that are misaligned to outcomes or are outside the sphere of ministry influence create a situation where staff feel powerless in their ability to achieve the stated targets.
The full benefits of clear outcomes, integrated planning and identified measures will only be realized through disciplined annual management and evaluation. Regular meetings to assess performance should look forward for ways to improve, and look back to analyze the effectiveness of recent activities at delivering outcomes. Performance assessment tools, such as dashboards, status reports and risk registers, should be selected up front, and used on a consistent basis to drive understanding and awareness throughout the organization.
Adopting an integrated performance management framework will be challenging for any organization. Existing initiatives and varying perspectives on approaches will create difficulties in the development and implementation of the framework. Incorporating the valuable components of current performance management initiatives, establishing a representative project team and respecting the capacity and capability of the organization will assist in addressing these obstacles. However, in our experience, the most important factor in the successful implementation of a performance management framework is the visible, executive level sponsorship for the initiative.
In a world where governments are constantly facing new and complex challenges, an integrated approach to performance management is necessary. Clear policy outcomes, an integrated approach to planning, and the regular monitoring and evaluation of insightful measures will provide the information necessary to answer the question: How are we doing?
James Gordon and Andrew Medd are consultants with Deloitte (www.deloitte.ca).