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A Roadmap for Success: The Importance of Developing a Performance Management Implementation Plan

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tim Dodd
August 8, 2019

Like most new initiatives, performance management programs are often seen as additive to the already full plates of public sector employees. Making the case to commit effort to a new initiative can also be particularly challenging without an organizational understanding of the purpose and benefits of implementing a performance management program. In order to move forward with a successful performance management program, the, “Why?” question must be answered at the beginning, and it must be supported by a roadmap for implementation.

Most private sector managers, regardless of whether they work at a startup with ten employees or a multi-national corporation with 50,000 employees, would never question the need to set measurable goals and use data to drive decisionmaking. While many companies focus on being good neighbors being environmentally sustainable and supporting nonprofit organizations, all private sector companies are driven by the bottom line. Driving profit means overall success of the company and the ability to pay employees, please investors and shareholders and provide opportunities for growth and expansion. Without revenue, the company would cease to exist.

In the public sector, though data driven decisionmaking is something of a new phenomenon. The same correlation between organizational success and revenue does not exist, and as a result there is a burden on proponents to prove why the organization should move in that direction. Cities existed for thousands of years without this approach and, while current municipal employees have not been around that long, many have had long, distinguished careers in successful municipalities without a performance management program. They question the need to spend time on developing such a program. As a result, municipal leaders must clearly articulate their reason for pushing to develop a performance management program, and the reason must be one that resonates across the organization.

While each municipality has a unique, “Why,” there are themes that cut across municipalities based on issues facing the municipality and issues that community members and elected officials are interested in focusing on. Several mayors of large, urban cities—such as Martin O’Malley in Baltimore in the late 1990’s—made the successful case for performance management by showing how the system could improve service delivery in a time of strapped budgets and declining revenues. Other cities are interested in using it to set ambitious community outcomes and mapping organizational work towards the achievement of those outcomes. The case for performance management needs to be made from the outset, and the reason must be one the organization can get behind.

Once the, “Why,” has been clearly established, the next step is to develop a comprehensive, easy-to-follow plan that will allow the organization to achieve the desired outcome. Implementing a culture that uses data-driven decisions to create a high performing organization is a significant culture change. Like any culture change, it requires both a clear acknowledgement of the purpose of the program and an identification of the strategies and steps needed to implement the program. Often, I have been asked how to measure the effectiveness of a performance management system. In essence, did this new program actually make our organization perform better? This outcome is the ultimate reason why any organization starts down the path of creating a performance management but, like the organizational outcomes included in such a program, can only be achieved with deliberate actions that are monitored and measured for their effectiveness.

While there is not a specific amount of time to develop a performance management program, a culture change of that magnitude takes time. As a result, a three to five year plan is an optimal amount of time to implement the building blocks of a performance management program. The plan should be organized around phase of development and strategies, mapping aspects of each strategy to the appropriate phase.

The phases of performance management are similar to the phases of a project, and are meant to organize the key steps in developing and implementing a program:

  • Strategize- Meetings, research and discussions that identify the key principles and goals related to a specific task.
  • Develop- The process of creating materials, processes, and procedures to prepare for implementation.
  • Implement- Launch the task.
  • Monitor and Improve- Ongoing evaluation, assessment and modification.

The strategies will vary from municipality to municipality, but all strategies should map back to the outcome of creating a culture that uses data to drive decisions. Each strategy should include a defined purpose, summary, measures of success and a work plan. In an implementation plan I recently developed, I created a table for each strategy, listing key components of each, with a newsletter being an example of a component of the communication strategy. I mapped each component to the appropriate year and month of the plan, and color coded it to the appropriate phase of the performance management cycle.

Creating a plan of this detail takes time, and it should be done through a team effort. Developing materials such as a one or two pager and short emails with clear bullets are also important strategies to effectively communicating the plan with stakeholders across the organization. The plan should also be something that is actually used to monitor the effective implementation of a plan. I mapped my recently completed plan on the whiteboard in my office, and every month do a review of where we currently are in implementing the plan and determine whether modifications are needed. Additionally, I will use the plan to update department directors on a quarterly basis with a no surprises approach to sharing which steps are next.


Tim Dodd is the Chief Performance Officer for the City of Santa Monica, CA, previously serving as the Performance Manager for the City of Baltimore and Director of Performance Management for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [email protected]

 

 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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