Decisions are made based on one of two things: anecdotes or data. Successful performance management programs play a vital role in dismantling sensationalism and distrust in government by making data and metrics accessible and usable for budgeting and decision making. Local government, being the closest level of government to the people, plays an essential role in utilizing performance management as a tool for restoring public trust and preserving democracy.
For assistants and deputies, developing a performance management program is a great tool to allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of the organization. Being involved in the process will give you keen insights into the operations you manage, as well as provide the information you will need to build the case to your CAO when it comes time for budgeting and making strategic decisions.
The following is a “keep it simple” approach to building a performance management program when your organization has limited resources and staff, and does not have a centralized enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
First Things First: Where Are We?
Create an inventory of what data is already being collected in each department and what software or programs are being used to collect it. In Boynton Beach, we sent out a form to all departments and then put it all in one spreadsheet for easier analysis.
Start Small: Pilot Program
Review the inventory and set yourself up for success by piloting the program with one or two departments. Ideally, select departments that are already collecting data and perhaps more importantly, have the staff bandwidth to assist with piloting the program.
Develop the Dream Team
Put together a team of motivated staff members who will spearhead the pilot and will meet regularly (bi-weekly/monthly) to develop the program. At a minimum, you will want to have the following on your dream team:
- An executive level champion (assistant/deputy).
- A staff member from information technology or who is familiar with pulling data from the software of the pilot department(s).
- The department director(s) of the pilot department(s).
- A staff member from the pilot department(s) with analytical skills and time to dedicate to the program.
Find Your SaaS
Have the dream team work together to select a software as a service (SaaS) solution to centralize data across departments and build the dashboards that will display the data for consumption. There are many good options that are low cost and user friendly. I highly recommend looking into what other municipalities are using to benchmark. The biggest key will be finding the one that most easily integrates with the software that your departments already use for data collection.
In Boynton Beach, we use a solution that has a relatively inexpensive annual subscription cost, as well as a fixed hourly rate for consulting services to assist us as needed with integrating the data from the departments and building the dashboards. We are also minimizing costs by taking the “Train the Trainer” approach—having the consultant train the dream team so they can become in-house trainers as we continue program rollout.
KPIs + Your Strategic Plan
The dream team will provide support to the pilot department(s) in determining meaningful metrics to capture (Key Performance Indicators or KPIs). There is a ton of good information out there on developing your KPIs, such as this resource from ICMA. If your municipality has a strategic plan, it will be highly beneficial to tie the KPIs to the goals outlined in the strategic plan.
Data + Dashboards
The dream team will work to build the dashboards for displaying the data and then get the data into the selected SaaS. Figure 1 is an example of one of the first dashboards we developed.
Repeat the Process
Once the pilot is up and running, it will become easier to slowly add in more departments and replicate the pilot process. Set up quarterly meetings for all department directors across the municipality and executive-level staff (including the CAO) to walk through the dashboard and provide feedback. This will allow the departments to see the tangible results that have been created and inspire application of the program to their own department. These regular meetings are an essential key for the program's success and continual improvement. They also have the added benefit of fostering collaboration between departments, as walking through each department’s dashboards will naturally bring up discussions about increasing efficiencies between departments.
Play the Long Game
Communicate to staff and stakeholders from the beginning that implementing performance management is a long-term effort and will evolve and be refined over time. It’s a paradigm shift for the organization to start thinking in terms of metrics and it will become easier and more natural with time. It is an exciting leap to take your organization to the next level. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
In closing, performance management has much larger implications beyond the boundaries of your municipality. The new task of public service is restoring faith in government through data-driven decision making.
KATHRYN MATOS is assistant city manager of Boynton Beach, Florida.