Performance Measurement
May 10, 2012

Technology’s role in performance culture

Too few public sector organizations have truly embedded performance thinking into everyday decision making. Performance monitoring and reporting is still often considered a “necessary evil” to meet either corporate or central agency compliance reporting requirements. Frontline managers are getting increasingly frustrated with performance-based requests that are time-consuming, tedious and error-prone.

Advances in performance management technologies offer the promise of readily accessible information around the planning, monitoring and reporting processes central to any department’s ability to achieve organizational success. Yet technology can only be as useful as the quality of the information supplied.

To design and develop high-quality performance content requires both a sound understanding of fundamental performance management principles and the availability and use of consistent performance tools like standardized guides, templates and supportive training.

Performance technology provides the vital link for both building and deploying quality performance content. Performance technology like dashboards or scorecarding is a key component in both the “performance content design and development cycle” and the “performance awareness and decision cycle.”

Using technology not only helps to clarify the performance management requirements and the supporting performance data, it also lets employees at all levels better visualize gaps or disparities that may require additional refinement.

To succeed in using technology to improve organizational awareness and acceptance, “baby steps” is the name of the game. Each advance in the use of technology needs to be preceded by an increase in organizational learning. Similarly, each enhancement in performance understanding should be reinforced through the use of technology so these advancements get institutionalized.

Figure 1 shows the need to balance the progress in performance understanding with the evolution of performance technology usage. To migrate from a stoic management environment, one needs either new business approaches or improved responsiveness via technology. Taking a unidirectional approach on either path however, can be a challenge. Too much conceptual education without practical hands-on reinforcement often leads to a passive culture where rules and procedures are the order of the day and staff engagement is lost under the weight of the protocols. Conversely, applying technology in isolation generally results in managers being nervous and fearful of their next move or how to use this new found data access to support day-to-day operations.
 
Moving too far down either path can create barriers that actually limit or even kill advancements on the other axis. If there is no understanding of the technology options ahead of time and the content is not crafted to best suit a viable solution, the best performance concepts in the world can be ineffective and actually work against the development of enterprise-wide acceptance and engagement. The trick, as Stephen Covey would say, is “begin with the end in mind.”

These days there are a wide variety of leading-edge performance technologies from which to choose. In many cases, departments either have technology infrastructure that can be easily extended to take advantage of a number of high-quality solutions or have performance technologies already installed, and perhaps implemented, within one or more program units.

For the most part, although each technology will have its own strengths and weaknesses, all performance software has much of the core functionality required to properly visualize performance relationships and supporting data.

The bottom line: most organizations can (and should) leverage what they already own or can easily acquire without turning a performance enhancement project into a major technology procurement. A careful assessment of the organizational gaps in performance understanding and performance content development, hand-in-hand with a review of exactly what technology capabilities the organization has at its disposal, should be the first step to embarking on any major performance improvement initiative.

NOTE:
PPX will hold its 16th annual symposium May 29-31 in Ottawa. To learn more about planning and performance management and connect with other practitioners or to register, visit www.ppx.ca.

Mike Haley is a board member of the Planning & Performance Exchange (PPX) and practice lead for Landmark-Intersol, a strategic consulting alliance between Landmark Decisions and Intersol Group (mhaley@landmark.ca).

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