by Gerald Young, senior research associate, ICMA

Self-interest is a key motivating factor in performance management, in part because department staff are skeptical that any new initiative imposed from above will be both benign and helpful. Instead of setting up performance tracking as one piece of the management toolbox, without relating it to the larger picture, managers should consider how to integrate that effort more fully.

At the 2018 ICMA Annual Conference in Baltimore, Robert Layton, city manager, Wichita, Kansas, led a roundtable discussion that focused on how to motivate staff who might be hesitant to engage. Here are some of the key strategies that participants offered:

  • Explain why you’re measuring what you’re measuring and what the next steps are. If you don’t have a “use case” for the data, then it’s not worth the time to collect it.
  • Involve front-line staff in developing their own measures. Ensure that they also clearly define the formulas or measurement methods so that data can be collected consistently from year to year.
  • Link measures to strategic objectives so the two can be discussed together in any meetings with management, elected officials, or the public. (See this infographic, Aligning Strategic Goals with Measurable Outcomes.)
  • Align your messaging. Is your data model punitive? If your organizational culture has historically called out negative results, it will be difficult to get people to collaborate on performance data collection and honest discussions. Instead, work toward and support a culture of transparency and continuous improvement.
  • Revisit performance reporting throughout the year. Schedule regular follow-up so staff can see that the focus is not to fill in a blank on a budget form (and ignore it the rest of the year) but to better understand performance and drive more informed decision-making.
  • Support training and related software to help everyone understand the goals and process.
  • Reward initiatives that consider long-term return on investment, rather than shortcuts to one-time budget savings.
  • Consider accreditation or benchmarking as ways to reinforce a focus on results or to obtain an outside corroboration of the data you’re collecting.
  • Start small. If you’ve got certain operations that are ready to lead the way (e.g., fleet maintenance), encourage those staff to form working groups with peers in other local governments to lead the discussion.
  • Celebrate successes by departments that effectively communicate using data. This can be to argue for a change in policy, to revisit prior decisions to show that they did, in fact, achieve the performance results they said they would achieve, or to discuss why performance may have fallen short of expectations and outline concrete, corrective actions for improvement. Promote this as a practice to be followed by others in the organization as well.

What strategies work best for you? Post your answer.


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