5 Essential Steps to Performance Management

Post Highlights

  • Performance management is essential for the public sector – but challenging to do right
  • Alignment across teams is essential to meet organizational needs
  • Management needs to set the high level vision and get buy-in and feedback from all employees

Performance management in the public sectors goes all the way back to 1883. With the passing of the Pendleton Act, or Civil Service Act, a merit system was put into place, with an attempt to end favoritism and required all promotions to be by merit, and not nepotism. Performance management today, as it was in 1883, is essential to improving how government operates. In a time where budgets are increasingly tightening and programs are scrutinized closer than ever before, an informed and effective performance management plan is essential.

I read through a few documents on the web, trying to find where agencies can start with performance metrics. As most agencies are knee deep in performance metrics, I would be really surprised if this process has not been taking place within an agency in some capacity. Here are my five take-aways from doing some research, and what is important for performance management:

Identify what drives value for the agency

Step one is thinking through where value comes from for the agency. What does success look like? From projects that I have worked on at GovLoop, I sit down and think what the end product looks like, if it’s a guide or report, I just visualize the product, what it includes and then work backwards on the tactical aspects of the project. In government, the same process can be used – thinking about what the real goals are, what needs to be accomplished and then working back to allocate to the proper staff and team members.

Link metrics to strategic goals

Strategic planning is so important. I spoke and wrote about strategic planning a few months ago while working on the GovLoop workforce-planning guide – this process is integral to any organization. In a recent blog post I wrote:

Strategic planning is the act of aligning resources and assets to match organizational needs. As this is done, agencies can more clearly articulate and anticipate how their workforce is changing. I heard an interesting quote from President Eisenhower; “Plans mean nothing, planning is everything.” Essentially, what President Eisenhower is advising, is that by investing the time into strategic planning and thinking critically about your agency, there is much value from the actual process of strategic planning, along with tangible outputs.

In this instance, the value is that strategic and specific goals will be defined, and people will align more clearly to the most critical organizational objectives.

Design metrics for individuals and across groups

This is an important and critical step. From many of the resources I was looking at, it is important for the vision, strategic alignment and goals to come from the top. Once the high level vision is set, individual goals and performance metrics are essential to meeting the goals of the mission. Thinking through this process seems to be taxing, but essential for management. I would be interested in hearing more how you develop personal initiatives and programs.


Next step is to roll out the initiative to the broader team, build up support and make sure the team is onboard. Great plans can fail while being implemented – management needs to be able to sell the program, it’s goals and be clear how this is going to impact employees on a day to day.

Adaptability as goals & organizational needs change

One of the challenges for performance management is that metrics and goals need to change and adapt as the organization evolves. This is a challenging process for organizations, and starts to shed light into the kind of cultural needs for performance management to really work. In essence, the culture needs to one that is agile, entrepreneurial, and results-oriented to make performance management work.

I’d love to hear or be directed to performance management information, it’s something so critical for organizations, and would love to hear how your organization has implemented performance management initiatives, or how you are adapting programs to meet organizational needs.

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Mark Nelson

Pat – I agree with your post.

I attended the Code for America conference last week in San Francisco and this week at ICMA Phoenix Conference and there has been a lot of talk on Data Driven Discussions and starting performnace management programs. At Revelstone, we believe the economy has taken its toll on organizations and managers are now seeking solutions to find efficiencies and give their department managers tools to help them manage their teams.

I wrote on The 5 of Myths of Performance Management http://www.revelstonelabs.com/blog/?p=195 outlining the challenges municipalities face in adopting a performance management program.

I believe in any PM program, the key is to identify “the right” metrics and sometimes a top down approach (as you discussed) is the right way, but i’ve also seen a bottoms up approach where department managers identify whats important to delivering services. In an ideal world, both approaches are employed and meld into a coehive set of metrics.

A great example of a new “Stat” citizen facing page has been launch by Louisville KY, called LouieStat. They have identified just 3 metrics for the pilot departments and are publishing metrics for citizen consumption. http://louiestat.louisvilleky.gov/

Pat Fiorenza

Awesome – thanks for sharing all the great information and for your comment, Mark! Little jealous of the conferences you were able to attend, sound like both would be fascinating to attend, and both great cities. Enjoyed your post on performance management, and I think you’re right that it’s best when elements of top down and bottom up approach are taken, I don’t think you can really have an efficient PM program if you lack buy-in or support from either end, so important to engage all stakeholders and know what is best for the given culture of the organization. Thanks again for the comment.