3 Steps To Improving Government Performance

As Jerry Mechling a research vice president at Gartner Inc. and a former faculty member of the Harvard Kennedy School points out in a recent article there are three key steps to improving the performance of government:

1) Goals: Set motivating and verifiable goals for groups and the units and individuals within.
2) Gaps: Measure and analyze the differences between goals and results.
3) Guidance: Decide on the rules and roles needed to close the gaps.

As an example of the successful use of the three steps mentioned above, Mechling points to the invention of CompStat by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton. CompStat involved setting goals, measuring progress and making adjustments to reduce crime. CompStat was duplicated by many cities such as Baltimore and Buffalo through programs called CitiStat. Through CitiStat cities set goals to improve the delivery of services such as addressing pot hole repairs in 24 hours.

As Mechling reports the process New York City utilized with CompStat was:

Goals – Bratton’s team set a goal of reducing crime 10 percent, year after year. The goal was translated downward into specific plans for objectives such as getting guns off the streets, reclaiming public spaces, curbing youth violence in the schools and streets, driving drug dealers out of the city, and breaking the cycle of domestic violence. Each goal contained measurable targets.

Gaps – The CompStat process was based on feedback on robberies, homicides, burglaries, gun-related deaths and other statistics that had in many cases been available but not aggressively used for timely problem-solving. Using up-to-the-minute feedback, CompStat ranked precincts against themselves and against other precincts.

Guidance – Guided by data analysis and by collaboration across levels of the police hierarchy and with other city institutions, CompStat created techniques for solving the problems that were identified. In general, commanders were freed up from many bureaucratic rules that had developed over the years. In return, the commanders were held much more accountable for improving outputs (such as arrests) and outcomes (such as overall reductions in crime).

The end result of CompStat was a 12 percent reduction in reported crime the first year, compared to 1 percent nationally, and it kept falling as Bratton continued with CompStat.

Many local governments do not set clear measurable goals. Without clear goals to strive towards, performance cannot be improved. Is your local government following the three steps mentioned above?


Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Chris Cairns

Great example of how to apply some simple goal-setting guidelines to achieve high performance. Good performance management system is such a critical building block to driving results, which makes it surprising that some organizations aren’t very good managing. Performance management should be a core competency of every organization.

Josh Nankivel

Loved this quote from the referenced article: “Feedback in government, however, is often anything but clear, largely because those who receive the benefits are usually not those who bear the costs.” –Jerry Mechling

Josh Nankivel

With the teams I work with I think this happens, primarily because our work is all project-based. We have a product to produce and although the requirements evolve over time there is regular feedback between the government and contractor. I don’t think we involve the end user enough in product development though. But when everyone in the agency defaults to Lean/Agile methods for their software development projects like I’m trying to push forward, this and many other issues with miscommunication and/or lack of feedback will be helped a great deal.