Applying performance data in local government is a fire that needs to be stirred continually. That fire got a good poking in a recent webinar produced by the Alliance for Innovation. Once again, the AFI team of Toni Shope and Ryan Spillers convened a strong panel that delivered 75 minutes of excellent content which I had the pleasure to moderate: “Ratcheting Up Performance: How the PerformanceStat Leadership Strategy Can Help Municipalities Produce Results.”
Kicking off the webinar was a presentation on driving government performance by Dr. Robert D. (Bob) Behn (rhymes with Rain), Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and faculty chair of the school's executive education program. Bob recently published a book titled The PerformanceStat Potential: A Leadership Strategy for Producing Results. He focuses on researching, thinking and teaching in a field absolutely critical to our work as practitioners: the leadership challenge of measuring and analyzing current performance of our local governments and using that knowledge to improve outcomes.
Bob described the evolution of PerformanceStat from its initial use in the New York City police department to its more general use in other cities and other service areas. PerformanceStat offers a disciplined approach for leading performance management. It all comes together around regular meetings of the chief executive and leadership team looking at current performance data compared to set targets.
Then the fun begins with the team identifying problems, monitoring metrics, challenging cause-and-effect assumptions, celebrating successes, resetting targets, and developing improvement strategies. Bob demonstrated how it might work looking at a data set from the Baltimore's Water and Wastewater Division. If that piques your interest, you can subscribe to Bob's free monthly Performance Leadership Report.
Next, three current city managers—all recognized leaders in evidence-based management—described the performance journeys in their cities. Both Lee Feldman (city manager in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and president-elect of ICMA) and Troy Schulte (city manager in Kansas City, Missouri) reported on their experiences in implementing forms of PerformanceStat:
Fort Lauderdale has implemented a strategic management system, FL2Stat—that provides a process for assessing progress against strategic goals.
- Kansas City uses a KCStat program that includes both citywide and department level data.
- And Darin Atteberry (city manager in Fort Collins, Colorado) discussed the unique Fort Collins approach, based on the Baldrige performance excellence framework.
All the presenters could see big benefits to their performance management efforts, although none felt their systems have as yet reached maturity.
- PerformanceStat is a leadership strategy involving key components: meetings, data, technology, and staff—but the critical component is leadership (Behn).
- Performance is like an iceberg—take a deeper dive to find more opportunities for cross-functional collaboration (Feldman).
- Use data not as hammers but as flashlights to shine a light on performance (Atteberry).
As a player in the arena of local government performance measurement/management for nearly forty years before and after my recent retirement as city manager in Williamsburg, Virginia, I can see today a set of leading practices emerging from top academics and practitioners that almost any local government can adopted and use effectively . . . if it has the will to do so. I highly recommend taking 75 minutes of your time to watch this onDemand webinar. It's available for download from the Alliance of Innovation ($75 for AFI members; $99 for nonmembers).