Robert Shea is a Principal with Grant Thornton LLP's Global Public Sector and a former senior official at the White House's Office of Management and Budget. He is also a Fellow and Chairman of the National Academy of Public Administration.
The months leading up to and following the 2016 election will bring major leadership changes and different administrative priorities, potentially jeopardizing the progress agencies have been making in the area of performance improvement. Agencies should begin now to identify and embed performance practices that have been successful, and expand them widely throughout government if they are to maintain momentum.
Helpful in that process is a recent federal performance report, jointly produced by Grant Thornton and the Partnership for Public Service. The report, Putting Together the Performance Pieces: A Practical Guide for Federal
The guide builds on a body of work spanning five years, designed to identify and document lessons learned about agency performance, specifically about the role and practices of agency performance staff. The past two annual reports highlighted the importance of leadership support, and the role of agency PIOs in driving agency performance.
The good news is that agency performance staff members are well-aligned on the practices that they have found to be helpful in building a performance culture. Over the past five years, performance staff has said that their organizations are able to tackle challenges better when they implement key practices, such as connecting program activities to agency priorities and demonstrating a return on investment. This year, our goal was to capture these collective lessons learned.
While there are promising practices within agencies, we found there remains room for improvement in agencies' use of performance information. Subcomponent performance staff members were asked to grade their agency's performance culture from "A" to "F." The average response of all survey respondents was a "C," and 13.3 percent of respondents gave their agency failing marks. Additionally, less than half of respondents (48.3 percent) indicated that their department's top leadership uses performance data to drive decision-making to a "great" or "very great" extent. This indicates a perception that department-level leaders are making decisions without the benefit of the analysis work that performance staff members are leading.
Performance staff eager to continue driving change can learn from what other federal organizations have done to encourage dialogue, assess the value they provide to citizens, improve data collection and, ultimately, transform their organization's performance culture. Hopefully, they'll find it helpful that we've compiled the practices performance staff cited most frequently over the past five years.
- To ensure performance management activities are valuable to leadership, connect program activities to agency priorities. For instance, performance management professionals should lead the creation of clear agency priority goals that are clearly communicated through strategic planning documents.
- Get the analytical talent needed. Recruit and train staff with not only data analytics skills, but also the ability to clearly present and communicate insights from the analysis.
- Build meaningful relationships that bring performance and program staff who serve diverse roles to learn and work together.
- Move from data to information – standardize data collection across regions or offices to make it easier to aggregate and analyze data across subcomponents.
- Demonstrate the return on investment by obtaining accurate cost information and establishing a common definition of program evaluation that provides consistent evidence of effectiveness.
When we released the report at the Partnership for Public Service's headquarters, we started by asking participants to rate their agencies' maturity with respect to each of these practices. When we were done, we asked them to note which practices they were going to work on implementing when they returned to work. So, where is your agency? And what steps will you take to lead the way to a stronger performance management culture?