In government, it is imperative to measure our performance. However, in a lot of cases, creating measurements becomes a once-a-year financial exercise or defensive tool during the budget process. Performance measurement should not only be a work task but a real asset to an organization’s vitality. Bottom line…it should be meaningful. As a leader or manager, are you up to this challenge?
Step 1 – Consensus on “why” you are measuring
So why measure performance in the first place? Some objectives include:
- Track workload types and volumes for revenue projections (inputs and outputs; i.e.- # of permits received or issued)
- Monitor impacts to individual staff capacities (efficiency; i.e. – # inspections/day or # inspections/inspector)
- Evaluate process timeliness (efficiency; i.e. – # of days/review)
- Measure customer perception and/or satisfaction (outcomes; i.e. – reliability/quality of information received)
Reaching consensus on “why” may feel like an extra step. However, you may be surprised at how much disagreement there will be among your team about this critical point. Consensus on “why” will help in setting priorities and whittling down the numbers of things you measure. Frequently, I have seen where a community has been measuring an activity for many years but nobody seems to know why the data is being collected and what it is used for.
Many communities rely heavily on the first two objectives….overall volume of activity and staff workload, with some attempts to measure timeliness. But what about measuring your customer’s satisfaction? Are you even sure what successful service delivery looks like in their eyes? If not, how do we pick measures that help you understand if you are being successful with your customers?
As a leader or manager of your organization, it is imperative that you have developed an agreed upon list of objectives for measurement. If you don’t, you have delegated the one most important litmus tool for monitoring your organization’s success (especially if customers and elected official are screaming about service problems)
Which brings me to the most important step at this stage in my opinion. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your customer’s success criteria are……then ask them! Facilitate a group of representative (often vocal) customers and task them with defining their expectations and priorities for successful service delivery (desired outcomes). I insist on doing this with every client I have. It gets customers to take ownership for the process results and it often leads to discussions about improvements that may be needed. Customers will be pleased (sometimes shocked) that you asked for their opinion.
Most often, customers have stated their key priorities are:
- Timeliness and predictability of process
- Quality and reliability of information or interpretations
- Accountability for decision-making
It is fine to have multiple objectives for measurement. You have to get consensus with your team on what your priorities are. Make sure that the “program” is balanced. Not everything that counts can be counted.
Step 2 – Balance the “program” to make it meaningful
My philosophy is that a performance measurement “program” should have two very clear and comprehensive objectives:
- Measure all phases of a customer’s project timeline (application process, review & issue resolution, action (hearing), inspections, and then overall processing time) and then add more about staff/process efficiency and workload.
- Measure customer satisfaction with the development services system: How do they feel about various aspects of service delivery for information, project processing, inspection, etc.? Collect comparative subjective data that correlates to the timeline data in #1. This objective relies on a regular survey of customers.
Both elements with help you determine if you are meeting customer needs? One part tells you the actual, numerical data (metrics) about how the process is working…the other part about the customer’s perception. So, if the customer generally perceive that services are good and staff is meeting all their targets….life is good. However, if staff is meeting all their targets and customers perceive that services are a problem…what then? Perception vs. calculated metrics have to be the results we compare. Otherwise, you measure the calculated time, you meet it, and it gives you a false level of comfort. If customers perceive problems, are you really successful? I say no. A comprehensive measurement program is an opportunity to gauge perception with reality.
Step 3 – Validate your measures
When you develop a program, you want to include the highest priority measures in it. Within your program, some measures will be reported in the budget process, others in your ongoing customer group meetings, and all in regular reporting for managers/supervisors. In any case, I feel it is important to validate each of your measures so you can be selective about the measures you choose and then be able to answer questions about them with any group.
If a manager or supervisor suggests to continue an old measure or use a new one, make them justify the measure by answering some basic questions:
- What is the rationale for using the measure? (what objective(s) will it satisfy….workload, customer satisfaction, efficiency, etc. A short description is helpful to explain the rationale.)
- How will the data be collected? (electronically, manual, via survey, etc.)
- Who will collect the data? ( line staff, manager, finance, etc.)
- How will the target value be set? (benchmark of previous years activity, other communities, guess/pie in the sky, etc.)
Step 4 – Follow-through with implementation
Whew….you have finalized your measurement objectives and developed a short-list of measures! Now what? Don’t rest yet. Now comes the follow-through and implementation. Below are a few things to consider when implementing your program:
- Finalize the list of measures in the program. Obviously you get the sign-off by administration and finance.
- Finalize the rationale, collection methodology, and initial target for each measure.
- Collect baseline data for new measures from tracking system reports, historical project files or survey instruments. This will help confirm your initial targets.
- Draft the performance measurement program reporting format.
- Draft the first program report and communicate results to staff, customers, elected officials, etc.
- Continue to draft and communicate regular performance measurement program report results. Reporting the data trend (and hopeful improvement) is the key to credibility.
Every community is different, but most communities face the same type of development services measurement challenges. Above all…think through measurement as a means to determine whether your process works, not just an exercise for finance and the budget process. Start with basics…focus on customer priorities. If you meet this challenge, then measurement will truly be worthwhile and meaningful and not just an annual budget “task”.