Performance Measurement
November 9, 2012

Performance measurement in difficult times

On May 9, Canadian Government Executive hosted a webinar with Steve Montague of the Performance and Planning Exchange. What follows is excerpts from a conversation between Montague and CGE editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe.
 
In difficult financial times, overheads need to be cut. Performance measurement and systems to support it cost time and effort. Should these be cut like everything else?

It depends on how you see performance measurement, and more broadly performance management. If you see it as a necessary evil like paying your taxes then certainly you should trim costs like anything else. But if you believe that performance measurement is a vital part of feedback about whether what you are doing is reaching people and making the difference you want, then perhaps when times are tough, you need to do it more rather than less.

That means focusing on the key elements to one’s value proposition rather than on force-fitting standardized measures to all situations. The first is to adopt a “managing for results” orientation. Many analysts have talked about this, and in fact the federal government has had a self-assessment tool out for about a decade now which can help groups to self-assess where they are (see http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/BT22-88-2003E.pdf for more on the self-assessment tool).

In addition, I like to focus on three important related ideas:

Spheres of influence: We do a lot of different things to influence those in need or those from whom we need support. We can consider the groups who we reach outside of ourselves to be groups within our spheres of influence. Some are groups who we touch directly with our work, people and groups within our sphere of direct influence. Others are part of broader communities who are indirectly reached by our efforts.

Results chains (who as well as what): A chain of behavioral expectations or results can be plotted as progressing through the spheres. The outside influences grow stronger as we move outward from our sphere of control. This has implications for predictability, planning and management.

Start with needs: One of the key concepts is to start with needs before plotting results. This can be an important “front end.”

The above ideas should support the telling of a performance story. This may be a story about the past or the future, but it is always a story. The key elements of the story involve the discussion of why we are doing the initiative (program, project, etc.), who we intend to reach with it and what difference we intend to make, and how we intend to operate – including how much we invest, how we deliver and how much we deliver. (Note the other Ws of Where and When may also apply to our “story.” These are typically part of specific plans and reports.)

What about scorecards and dashboards? These have been popular: how do they fit? It sounds as though what you are saying runs counter to these tools.

Well, if the scorecard is determined without reference to needs, without the basic depiction of who needs to be reached, what changes we need to see and why these make a difference to the mission, then, yes, I would be against jumping in to do a scorecard. But on the other hand, if you see performance measurement as something to help you manage within the context of your situation and you have worked out the needs and at least a basic chain of expected results, then a “scorecard” can be appropriately constructed.

Note that by using a results chain or hierarchy approach, set up by a precise analysis of needs, not only can you set up appropriately targeted measures, but you can also note the links between the levels. This allows you to put things like efficiency, effectiveness, return on investment, cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit into proper context.

So how can it more broadly help planning and management?

At the Canadian Cancer Society we have been using this kind of needs-results hierarchy to actually plan forward and to some extent review backwards. We are still in relatively early days, but thinking about spheres of influence, results chains and the notion that performance should always be considered vis-à-vis needs can help managers to implement a performance planning, measurement and management system which will serve organizations well in difficult times.

For examples on the use of spheres of influence, results chains and need, see the Canadian Cancer Society’s presentation at the 2011 PPX symposium: www.ppx.ca/download/symposiums/2011/concurrent/2011_CS_1&6_VezinaMontague_E.pdf


Steve Montague is the co-president of the Performance and Planning Exchange (PPX) and a partner of Performance Management Network (Steve.Montague@pmn.net).

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