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Government of the Future Part 2: Reframing Performance Measurement

September 6, 2018  by  Government Performance Consortium
Category:  Government Performance Advisor Government Performance Consortium

Government of the Future Part 2: Reframing Performance Measurement

Written by Larisa Benson and Chelsea Lei

At the official launch of the Government Performance Consortium (GPC) in April 2015, we called on Washington State local governments to “boldly go where no government has gone before...[and] to explore the next horizon of the modern government organization.” We envisioned a “vital and active ‘community of practice’ that exists to push the boundary of excellence and create a space where government leaders can explore, learn and adapt today’s leading practices to create entirely new forms of government.”

Part 1 of this series explored the kinds of support that government innovators need to sustain their work. In Part 2, we affirm that a strong foundation of organizational health is key to achieving meaningful improvement in organizational performance.

The GPC initiative started with a small group of city managers meeting up regularly over brown bag lunches to ask the question: “How could we help each other help our governments become high performing organizations?” Their conversations led to roundtables among key staff from multiple cities and counties about how to compare and benchmark key performance measures. Later, through a partnership with the State Auditor’s Office, the University of Washington Tacoma, and MRSC, we were able to support these conversations through a series of learning forums, workshops, exchanges, and webinars, bringing together 1200+ state and local government professionals from 150+ jurisdictions.

The GPC initiative is a project to transform government from the inside out. It is about people working inside government giving ourselves the permission to look inward and examine the hard truths about how we might shift our individual and collective patterns of thought and action to change government for the better. We recognize that truly transformative change begins when we become open to changing ourselves.

Up until today, performance measurement has been primarily about providing external accountability. External accountability is best suited to measuring performance on relatively simple tasks, such as response times for fixing potholes. But it doesn’t do as good a job of measuring performance on more complex tasks that have multiple, interdependent dimensions with many moving parts.

The hard truth is that we have not figured out a way to motivate the legions of talented people working in government when they feel they will be held accountable to metrics that imperfectly measure progress toward external goals. Consequently, performance measurement efforts invariably are met with skepticism, resistance, neglect, and fear. As an antidote to fear, we invite GPC members to focus on the quality of organizational health. These conditions — often unspoken, invisible, and intangible — are what scholars and practitioners in organizational management describe with terms such as “emotional intelligence,” “psychological safety,” and “social capital.”

Our GPC members are also asking for more and better ways to improve well-being at work. While participants consistently rated process improvement and performance measures at the top in our member surveys, topics like change management, challenging conversations, emotional intelligence, and value-based leadership rated highly as well.

At our most recent Lean and Beyond forum, we asked participants to rate the health of their organizations based on gut feelings. The average score was 5.8 out of 10 (10 being extremely fit) — clearly, we have room to grow and improve our organizational health fitness score.

What might happen if we close that gap? When we asked participants about the future they see when there is more focus on organizational health, we received many responses like these:

  • “Employees find greater joy in their work and community members have greater trust and confidence in us.”
  • “Work is fun! Problems are challenges and we celebrate the efforts the team makes to create a work environment that is constantly improving.”
  • “Continuous improvement is a part of everything we do, not an extra effort.”
  • “Folks are empowered to work smarter not harder.”
  • “There is no fear.”

These responses inspire us to reframe the future of performance measurement to amplify a growth mindset and focus on human potential in our quest for better performance. The old frame of accountability and judgment triggers people into freeze, fight-or-flight mode. Extending an invitation to co-create more well-being for both public servants and the communities we serve primes people with a more positive and generative outlook and provides them with a vital source of meaning in their work.

In part 3, we'll look at why joy is essential for transforming the experience of working in government and achieving meaningful performance improvement.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Government Performance Consortium

The Government Performance Consortium (GPC) convenes a vibrant network of civic thinkers and government practitioners across Washington State who are seeking to transform government from the inside out. Sponsored by MRSC, the State Auditor’s Office, and the KeyBank Professional Development Center, the GPC is co-led by Chelsea Lei and Larisa Benson.

The GPC offers a number or tools to help local government professionals interact with and learn from each other, including symposiums, events, and social media-based user groups.

The Government Performance Consortium writes for MRSC as a Government Performance Advisor. The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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