Mind The Gap: The Purpose Of Performance Measurement Is Improvement

I'm going to work a little bit backwards here, to explain how the whole planning-doing-measuring-reporting cycle is supposed to work. First, we need to acknowledge that performance measurement is a means to an end; the purpose of performance measurement is improvement. So obviously you need to identify the gaps in current performance to improve results. This is not always a happy prospect in the risk-averse, punishment-prone public service.

So, Job One, your people need to assured that performance measurement will be a positive and not punitive exercise. To do otherwise is to ensure critical data will be hidden, rather than revealed and used. Managers need to be prepared for performance gaps, and indeed expect them. Data drives organizational learning, and nothing drives learning better than a big honking blow-up.

But data is not enough; organizational learning is only the first step. Someone has to translate that learning into analysis and action.

Analysis includes not just figuring out why a failure occurred, but also what needs to change - in our organization, our processes, and our individual jobs - to remove or ameliorate the failure in the future.

Then someone must take the action to make that change happen. This implies you have figured out how your actions affect organizational results - i.e. the link between outputs and outcomes.

And that is why some means of making that linkage explicit – e.g. a Logic Model, or Strategy Map – is a necessity. When you are planning activities, you also need to figure out what to measure to determine if your plan is working.

So this brings us back to the beginning of the cycle. If we agree what success looks like for any given plan or program, and we agree how we will deploy measurement to gauge that success, then we can figure out (at least potentially) what actions we can take in the case of a performance gap.

And, rationally, if we ratchet-up our activities in response to performance data, and outcomes still don't improve over time, we need to revisit and question the whole theory behind the program. Dealing with these issues up-front will help to alleviate the fear of performance measurement in your organization.

As an aside, this explains why most Central Agency reporting is worthless for improvement purposes; it fails many of the requirements identified above. You may have to abide by it, but understand you need your own performance measurement system to drive real performance improvement.

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