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Summing It All Up

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

By Amy Johnson
December 11, 2015

Over the past five months, I have used this column to share information, best practices and perspectives on how to implement and leverage an organizational performance management strategy. In this final column, I would like to highlight what I feel are the five key take-aways for effective organizational performance management.

Have a plan. Know what you are measuring and why you are measuring it. In the current environment, there is generally no shortage of data. Some of it is relevant and insightful. Much of it is not. If you have an understanding of what successful delivery should look like (i.e., what that delivery should produce), you can focus on collecting the right information to assess performance.

pay-1036470_640Be cognizant of data quality. Not all data is good. Making a significant change to practice or policy based on interpretations of inaccurate data or old data can cause more damage than making decisions without any data. Data lends an extra layer of authority to the decision. When a decision is made “based on what the data tells us” but that data is bad, people may be hesitant to question the decision and will proceed along the wrong course longer than should.

Before using data for decision-making, managers need to be confident in the data. This means knowing and feeling good about the source. It also means understanding how data has been extracted and manipulated. What kind of credibility does the data have with program operators?  What can they tell you about its limitations?

There will always be challenges in using and interpreting data but if you have a good understanding of your data and the degree to which you can depend on it, you can manage the risks and make smart decisions.

Use data for decision-making. This seems obvious. If you weren’t planning to use it, you wouldn’t have bothered to collect it, right?  But in the heat of a crisis, when problems demand action, it is all too easy to make decisions by gut feeling, past experiences or stakeholder consensus and forget to consider the data and what it tells you.

Get help if you need it. Managers need to be supported as they learn what is important to ask of the data and on which data to focus based on what it really measures. They need to be able to put that data into the right context to understand what it means about performance. Otherwise, they won’t be able to identify the right activities to address inconsistencies and improve outcomes.

For some managers, the ability to quickly and correctly identify key take-aways from data is innate. For many, interpreting data and data-based reporting is like reading in a foreign language. Managers need access to tools as well as training to build skills to leverage data effectively.

Performance measurement supports the mission—it should not become the mission. If you find that a drive to use data for decision-making is drawing significant resources away from delivery of mission, your organization is not doing it right. It is time to stop and regroup.

When leaders and managers in organizations collect and use performance information in a thoughtful and deliberate way, they increase the potential of that organization. Smart use of performance information allows organizations to identify inefficiencies in operations and take corrective actions. It allows for realignment of resources to optimize delivery. Implementation of a good performance management strategy makes it possible for organizations to maximize mission impact.


Author: Amy Johnson has almost twenty years of experience working with public- and private-sector clients in the areas of program and process evaluation, strategic planning and organizational performance management. She serves as the director for nonprofit and civilian government programs at Coverent, a consulting firm focused on helping clients use data analytics to measure program performance and maximize mission impact. Contact at [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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