… Measure what matters!
In general, Key Performance Indicators serve two purposes. KPIs communicate what is important and, when a target is attached, what the expected level of performance is. That is why KPI management and selection is critical to executing your strategic plan. Behaviorally, KPIs also focus organizational and individual attention on the objective that is seen as “key” to reaching your desired goals. For these reasons, the question of “What should you measure” is important.
In the government sector, measurement can be difficult. There may be organizational and political reasons why rigorous measurement is avoided. For example, if a city’s Department of Social Services' productivity performance is pursued, i.e. an input vs. output measure, and the performance is tracked and made public knowledge, there may be a potential for political rivals to use it against the incumbent in the next election. This can occur when the results do not hit the targeted performance level even though improvement was achieved. Or, if a federal government agency tracks Budget Efficiency and productivity improvements are made to chartered services, delivering a service below budget, the resulting budget surplus may be taken away in the next year... not a great incentive to reduce expenses. Examples like these tend to mitigate the use of results oriented KPIs in government sectors. Instead, they may opt to develop KPIs that track activities and not results. Who can argue with being busy?
So, what does it take to overcome these potential structural problems surrounding measurement in the public sector? The answer is courageous leadership supported by delivered performance. In the first instance, the leader must insist on results oriented KPIs and not continue to track activity measures. They must assume the potential personal and organizational risk of challenging the organization to improve performance in the delivery of essential services. Coupled with the performance challenge they need to commit to allocating – or reallocating – public funds to accomplish the results. How often have you seen good ideas dashed by lack of funding? Where required, there may be a need to reallocate the available funding to accommodate the change in priorities. This may necessitate defunding the way things have always been done in the past in order to support the things that need to be done in the future. This has the potential to disenfranchise current stakeholders – incumbent employees/departments as well as external supporters.
Internally, leaders must also ensure there is a real sense of accountability for delivery of results by all employees in the department. Accountability is best secured when it is coupled with visible leader support. Not only the financial support to do the work but the Human Capital support to ensure the right people are in the right jobs. Leaders can sustain these efforts by delivering results, publishing results using KPIs and by positively recognizing and reinforcing accomplishments (you should note that I did not say “recognize activity”).
Finally, it has been said that “nothing succeeds like success”. When an individual, team or organization delivers results and are positively recognized for their accomplishments, they will tend to repeat the practices and behaviors that drove the results. Many have said that “Measures don’t Motivate” but the appropriate use of KPIs when used as a reinforcement tool and not as a mean to punish, will tend to focus behavior that delivers results. So, measure what matters and what matters is results!