GovHelp: How Would You Create a “Culture of Performance” in Government?

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This topic contains 39 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Carol Davison 9 years, 2 months ago.

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  • #128322

    I was just reading OMB’s April 14 memo that talks about “Building a government that works smarter, better, and more efficiently for the American people” as tied to the GPRA Modernization ‘Act of 2010 (President Obama’s Accountable Government Initiative).

    • Leaders set clear, ambitious goals for a limited number of outcomes-focused and management priorities;
    • Agencies measure, analyze, and communicate performance information to identify successful practices to spread and problematic practices to prevent or correct; and
    • Leaders frequently conduct in-depth performance reviews to drive progress on their priorities.

    This all sounds nice in theory, but:

    • How does it work in practice?
    • Does performance measurement just create more paperwork for you in terms of reporting?
    • How would you improve the processes surrounding performance measurement?
    • How / Does performance improvement tie to the Open Government initiative?

    And this isn’t true only for Federal government as I know there are city- and state-level initiatives on performance measurement.

    Eager to hear your insights…

  • #128400

    Carol Davison

    It is easy to improve performance. All you have to do is change your system to reward production of the results that you want. (For example if I told all my subordaintes that tap dancing would be rewarded, by the end of 60 days they all would be) Then you change our policies, sops, and training programs to support performance of the desired result. (At Commerce/ITA we wanted to tie performance and awards so awards are submitted using the last page of the performance record/apprasial. Score of say 500-450 is outstanding and can get up to $….., etc. If supervisors don’t write an appraisal, they can’t give an award.) After that you change position descriptions and vacancy announcments to reflect the new competencies need to produce the results. It’s a systemic process. much like a spider web where if you touch one area, if impacts another, and when you pull your hand away you can do damage, or get stuck. Of course all performance systems are an attempted to objectivize a subjective process and all systems can be gamed to reward one’s buddy for fogging a spoon, but you have to assume that most people are ethical. That is why I would make integrity the most highly valued competency for leadership.

  • #128396

    Carol Davison

    As a performance person, I realize that changing what will be rewarded, makes it happen. If we reward transformation from manages to leaders who compell their employees to high perforamnce, integrity, appreciative inquiry (vs fault finders), coaching, etc; we will get it regardless of whether we change training, sops, hiring, etc.

    For example, my dog knows that if he presses his chest to the floor when I say down, he gets a pupperoni.

    Because we reward people for working 9-5 we get it.

    Because its expected to be quiet in the theater, we don’t talk back like we do at home.

    Children are good in December so Santa will bring them presents. They aren’t so good in January.

    Changing what is rewarded is the quickest way to make something happen. A 360 will requie analysis, skills gap training, rewriting Pds and vacancy announcments, etc all of which are a lot of work which I don’t see happening any time soon.

    Here at Commerce/ITA we tied awards to performance by building the award nomination into the performance appraisal form. No appraisal, no reward.

    If I had bossaroni, spousearoni, and kidaroni I could rule the world.

    Of course this is an over simplification.

  • #128394

    What’s the time and cost of a 360 per employee?

    How often would you do it (annually only)?

    Would competencies be common or customized?

  • #128392

    Carol – you are too funny!

    And obviously, you have not been to some of the theaters in and around the DC area where people act like they’re at home.

    What’s the best “Pupparoni for a Government Employee?”

  • #128390

    Carol Davison

    Its FEDARONI Andy. And do you think I would share it if I had it? No way I would hold out for world domination! It would be okay though, I’m a pretty benign dictator: Rule 1. Play nice. Rule 2. Collaborate. Rule 3. Produce results for the taxpayer. Rule 4. No Inflicting your chemicals (smoke, perfume, air freshener) on innocent bystanders. Rule 5. No brick sidewalks on which myself and others can twist our ankles. 4×4 concrete slabs are much less painful. Rule 6. Seats in the lobbys of all Federal buildings where one can rest one’s feet while waiting, or to change our of sneakers.

    Actually once we transform managers to leaders who compell high peroformance, engage employees, empower them, challenge them, develop them, give them work with intrinsic reward so the employees will work harder that what is required.

    360s cost $200. The problem is that we first we need to get out of the command and control mentality and change from management to leadership before doing them. Check out the leadership circle’s results graphic on its website for the best explanation of this.

  • #128386

    Jaime Gracia

    Accountability is the answer. All the metrics and goals are useless unless you hold people accountable for results.

  • #128384

    Carol Davison

    THE FEDARONI REVEALED and it costs no time or money: It’s praise. Just the other day my supervisor told me that the Executive Director (E.D.) was called to the White House and asked how he accomplished so much is such little time. My boss said “This is your legacy.” I could have wept. This second generation Sunday School Superintendent hugged him. The E.D. told me “We couldn’t have done this without you.” I felt ten feet tall and bulletproof even before they gave me the commendable write up for my appraisal. When was the last time your boss or anyone else’s said something like that to you?

    OPM reports that 5% of Feds are problem employees. Why do we manage all as though they are problems?

    We need to change our outlook and “catch them doing something good”, and to say yes unless we have good reason not to. The Leadership Circle graphic circle can help us do that.


  • #128382

    Michael Horn

    Hi Andrew,

    for a performance culture you need: leadership buy-in, early involvement of managers in the development of the system, support for early adopters, clear expectations from leadership, transparency, demonstrated use of performance management. Easy to list, hard to do.

  • #128380

    Alison Simon

    Hi Andrew-

    Thanks for starting this discussion! My addition would be to say that there needs to be a host of metrics (some sort of balanced scorecard), not just one thing that we hold people accountable for. Its nice if you have a good manager but if they don’t understand the business, that’s a problem. So in addition to all the things that Michael points out, we also need multiple metrics that cover the tasks associated with the job. It is going to take awhile for us where we need to be—let’s keep these conversations going and maybe we’ll get there.


  • #128378

    I agree with Carol. Rewards are what breed success. Totally.

  • #128376

    Bill Brantley

    Why do just the leaders set the goals and metrics? Why don’t we involve the employees in the goal and metric process? And the problem with external awards is that once the awards stop, you don’t get that behavior. If you have buy-in to the vision then people will work hard because they are internally motivated.

    Whatever happened to high-performing self-managed teams?

  • #128374

    I was reflecting on best practices and why we don’t adopt them more. I think it is b/c unfortunately organizations sometime turn into petty fiefdoms where best practices threaten established positions of power. My blog should show up here soon but in the meantime here is a link:

    Thanks for this important conversation.

  • #128372

    Got any examples based on your experiences, Michael?

  • #128370

    Here’s another grenade lobbed into the fray:

    Should performance metrics be PUBLIC – both to the team and the people we serve (read: citizens)?

    It seems to me that if your performance indicators are known to all, there’s a certain amount of peer pressure (and peer support) that drives accomplishment.

  • #128368

    Alison Simon

    Not sure that is a grenade, as much as a softball lob….the public-ness will drive the accountability. Seems to me public accountability comes with a public sector job.

  • #128366

    Caryn Wesner-Early

    No, I’m with Alison – seems like sort of a “duh!” If everyone knows who’s supposed to be doing what, it’s easier to tell what’s slipping through the cracks, and make it part of someone’s job.

    The main thing I worry about with performance-based ratings is that interpersonal connections and niceties might get left out. It’s similar to standardized testing – people might just start checking off the stuff they’re assigned, and not help each other out, go the extra mile for customers, etc. It’s hard to make that kind of thing measurable, but without it, you’re not actually doing a good job.

  • #128364

    David Wayne Childs

    I implemented “positive performance management” such as Alison describes into a government agency and, over a ten year period, we tripled production in faster response times while reducing staff. We earned 4 national awards for excellence and were recognized by the Baldrige Performance Excellence program (at the State-level) twice. All of government can easily become 25% more efficient/effective/productive simply by implementing Lean/Balanced Scorecard/Baldrige/Positive Performance Management principles. And, as for the public having access to the measures, if they keep improving why would that be a bad thing ?

    David Childs, Ph.D.

    [email protected]


  • #128362

    Bill Brantley

    Love this quote from Herding Cats – “Without metrics, you’re just another guy with an opinion. — Stephan Leschka, Hewlett Packard”

  • #128360

    Tera Lea Salo


    We caught you doing something good! (again). this is great stuff… please keep influencing, and writing.

  • #128358

    Tera Lea Salo

    Alison, How can a “good manager” not understand the business?? A good manager either got that way from DOING the business (and rising up through the ranks), or by being ignorant (and bad) for a little while as they learned the business really fast… -tera

  • #128356

    Mary Groebner

    Several thoughts.

    First, it’s essential that your management recognizes that they have a problem, and that they WANT to go to a performance-based culture. It’s also essential that they have the leadership skills to get you there. This alone could take a long long time.

    Next, yes, I think you do have to change incentives/rewards/pay structures/etc. Currently, managers get rewarded by higher salaries if they have more people reporting to them. So, if they streamline so that they can get the same job done by having the same or fewer people, they are jeopardizing their own pay. That’s messed up.

    If you do have metrics, yes, you should measure and publish them.

    However, not all things can be measured as Caryn says above. For example, I’m a question-asker; I add tremendous value by asking good questions for others to consider as they plot strategy or revise processes. I also have a very wide and fabulous informal network I can tap. These are the single two best things I bring to any job but neither lend themselves to a performance metric.

    I think in terms of incentivizing performance, innovation, etc. you have to do management by objective. State the objectives clearly and reward folks who achieve them, instead of trying to count each and every thing. It’s not that different from gaining approval to telecommute; some managers resist that because they feel they lose control if they can’t ‘see’ their employee and ensure they’re working a full 8 hours – when the point is – are they getting the job done? (all based on setting clear understandable objectives, for an agency, for a position). Critical when you’re talking about metrics.

  • #128354

    Alison Simon

    great question Tera! I think I have seen too many workplaces at this point which means I have seen too many manager/employee scenarios. The specific scenario I am referring to here is someone who really is a good manager (wants to help out, gets you what resources you need- or tries to -, let’s you take time off when needed, and is generally just supportive of what you are doing) but has no idea what you do or much about the business. I just left a position that was exactly that scenario. My boss was nice and supportive but couldn’t do anything besides “manage” the staff which put us at a disadvantage because there is only so much “managing” that needed to be accomplished while we had an endless supply of work.

  • #128352

    Mary Groebner

    All true. Very true.

  • #128350

    Mary Groebner

    I know what you’re saying. I’ve also had a lot of those types of managers; sometimes it was because they didn’t know the business, sometimes it was because they didn’t feel empowered in their own positions to be real leaders either.

    Underlying thread in this entire conversation is that there’s a huge diff between being a manager (day to day ops), and being a leader (transforming for the future). And there’s a shortage of the latter, and a shortage of those folks in the middle who can bridge the strategic to the operational – the tactical folks.

  • #128348

    Robert Eckhardt

    In order for metrics to be effective and not onerous they need to be part of the process. Too often metrics are an after thought; requiring people to post-hoc ‘justify’ how good a job they did or create a parallel process so we can ‘check up’ on employees. I think when people cringe at the word metric or objective it is a reaction to these after thought measures.

    Objectives and metrics in government ought to be both public and internal. I work in the Assessment department in my county, publishing the number of houses we physically inspect would be a wonderful public metric. ON the other hand few people care enough about the process to want to look at ratio studies done on neighborhoods that exist only mathematically. Both of these can be used as metrics.

  • #128346

    Bob Woods

    The truth is you really do not need to reward people to improve performance.What you need to do is measure those things that are critical and ensure that the results of the measurements are communicated and used. People generally have the motivation, what they lack is a clear understanding of management expectations.

    An example from last month.

    We collect end-of-month mileage on vehicles. While people were told we need the data entered into the system right away, it rarely happened. Enter an automated monthly report that ranks each department in the city’s performance where Same Day = Excellence; Next Business Day = On Time; other dates = LATE and missing entries as NO REPORT.

    The report was emailed to City Manager and each director. Directors see that City Manager gets the e-mail and how they stand with their peers. Directors also get a seprate work unit report for their department to tell them how their individual units responded. Email responses from the directors cam virtually immediately. Only one tried to alibi out, and they were encouraged to change their process so that they can comply.

    These are basic concepts in both LEAN and SIX SIGMA.

  • #128344

    Mark Hammer

    I like to distinguish between what I call an “accountability agenda” and a “corporate intelligence” agenda when gathering organizational information. The former tends to revolve around how much fear is generated amongst management, and all too often results in very shallow analysis and a short-data-lifespan. Once a manager deems themselves “safe”, they no longer have any interest in what the data might say. Moreover, the kinds of things that are measured tend to be superficial and list-driven (in the sense of “Here’s a list of the things we in senior management wish to be able to say at the end of this exercise), rather than model- or insight-driven. It results in a rabid pursuit of presumed benchmarks, leading managers to “manage to the measures”, in the same way that teachers “teach to the test”. And of course, there is the constant fear that unpleasant numbers will show up in the press, or the pursuit of “happy story” numbers that are vapid and meaningless (see Q7 of the 2010 federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for the poster child of that one).

    Pursuit of the “corporate intelligence” agenda tends to result in a more thoughtful analysis (how is X connected to Y? What are the sorts of circumstances hospitable to program/initiative/strategy z?), and a longer useful lifespan for any data acquired. There is less paranoia surrounding the exercise because it is not intended to separate managers in to the good, the bad and the ugly, but rather to simply understand what works well.

    The accountability agenda is a bit like taking someone’s temperature, finding out that they don’t have a fever, and can now go to school, where the other approach is more like taking an MRI and doing a full metabolic workup to see how everything is working, and if there is anything a-brewing. You also increase the opportunities to stumble onto things you never realized or thought to look for.

    I also think that the most important components of “performance” in anyone’s job and organizational role are difficult to measure in any sort of consistent fashion across an organization as vast and diverse as “government”, and that few managers will really be in any sort of position to tell the measurers that “This, this, and that are what really represent optimal performance in my work unit and here is how you would measure them”. And of course, whenever people are held to account for anything, they insist on consistency of measurement/process, or else they deem the process patently unfair. When they view your motive as more curiosity-driven, they are more willing to tolerate being measured on things they don’t see as necessarily being the most valid reflection of performance.

  • #128342

    Robert Eckhardt

    This is an interesting distinction. I think that ‘accountability measures’ are important to direct resource allocation aiding in scheduling and purchasing.

  • #128340

    Bob Woods

    From Mark: ‘I also think that the most important components of “performance” in anyone’s job and organizational role are difficult to measure in any sort of consistent fashion, and that few managers will really be in any sort of position to tell the measurers that “This, this, and that are what really represent optimal performance in my work unit and here is how you would measure them”.’

    I have to say that this quote astounds me. If a manager does not have a clear understanding of what it is they are responsible for producing, and there is no concept of how well they are performing, they are clueless.

    Management, by definition, requires that you are woring towards a set of goals. If you have goals there MUST be a way to measure whether they are reached, exceeded, or inadequate.

    To take the position that it’s just too hard to measure things is unacceptable.

  • #128338

    Lindy Kyzer

    I worked for the Army as they attempted to institute this idea through NSPS – performance based raises from within a pay pool. Great idea in thought, awful in practice. Federal managers didn’t know how to institute it and after years and millions, it was scrapped.

    Government needs to reward top performers not just with monetary incentives but with quality work. Government (not unlike some areas of the private sector) needs to work especially hard to move more new (not just young – no age discrimination here) and rising talent into the right positions. Government, unfortunately, doesn’t embrace that kind of mobility and that as much as anything is a barrier.

    Management and the thought process have to improve before performance measurement has any impact.

  • #128336

    Mark Hammer

    I would agree that there are many lines of work where I too would be astounded by a manager’s inability to be able to point to what “better performance” looks like. But I speak as someone working within a central agency, where a great deal of what goes on is data analysis and policy development. I’m not anybody’s manager (thank heaven), but for many of the people I work with, I’ll be damned if anybody could point to what “better performance” is and how it could be validly measured. If I look at the managers around me, I have no idea what their performance could be indexed by. I do know that senior officials think they have a set of managerial performance measures for awarding performance pay which are effectively devoid of any validity. I also have access to government-wide data, and boy oh boy, never underestimate the oddness or idiosyncratic nature of government jobs, because somewhere out there is someone with just about the weirdest job you can imagine, such that feeding a set of performance indicators about that job back to senior levels will make them tilt their head sideways like the RCA Victor dog.

    That’s the long way of saying that an individual manager might have some sense of what better performance might look like for employee X, but not necessarily anything that could be applied beyond that particular employee such that the performance of work units Y and Z could be compared. It’s that elusive goal of organizational performance, as opposed to employee performance, that is the problem/challenge.

  • #128334

    Denise Petet

    I’ve had supervisors that couldn’t do my job if they tried. Quite literally could not do what I do on a daily basis…yet they are the same ones grading my performance.

    so….what? the person with the best relationship with their supervisor ‘wins’? Or the person best able to convince the supervisor they are doing a good job (ie: the one best able to talk fast). if they can’t do or understand my job, how can they really grade me on performance?

    So to ‘acknowledge performance’ it would seem to need knowledge on a supervisor’s behalf about the jobs their supervisees do in the first place. Which means some will have to let loose of their egos and admit that they really don’t know as much as they think they do…something that’s not easy in any organization and even harder in one like government with its appointees.

    In addition, rewarding….well, for government workers we are quite often statutorially forbidden to accept gifts. Not to mention, in this budget crunch time, justifying the spending of money to ‘reward’ people for doing what the public would see as their job. A manager couldn’t even legally tell you ‘you did a great job yesterday, how about you go home early today’ without requiring that person to use accrued leave time.

    We’ve tried doing an internal ‘pride’ award. Where, if you notice a person doing a good job, you go online, fill out a little certificate that is sent to that person and their supervisor. Some have gotten them, others haven’t. Theoretically everyone has the link on their computer, but the general attitude is ‘eh, just a waste of time’ so few bother to fill it out.

    Some people try to acknowledge others by sending e-mails or letters to their bosses, thanking them for something they did. And those are fun to get and something you can even put into your personal file as a ‘see, i did something good’…but not everyone does it, or if it is sent to a supervisor, that supervisor often doesn’t pass it on so the employee never knows that they are doing anything that someone else noticed. (trust me, if ti’s a e-mail about something you do wrong, those never fail to be passed down 🙂 )

    We’re trying to transition to a ‘five tiered pay for performance’ review system. Where, theoretically, the better you do on your review the bigger raise you will get. Some flaws have revealed themselves. First, lack of funding…while this plan was great a couple of years ago, funding for further stages may be cut out of the budget (by the very same legislature that gets an automatic raise each year, but that’s another topic). Second, there is an issue with uninformed supervisors…those that don’t know how to do a job, so how can they adequately grade your progress if they don’t really understand what your’e doing? Then there are the supervisors that, quite literally, put down as a goal for an employee to ‘be nicer to me’ ‘ do better on this’, etc….so how can a person with a review with relative goals be properly graded? (goals should be something quantitative….do these 3 tasks, read these 2 books, perform these 2 actions, etc. something that’s not up to the perception and mood of a person, but something that can be done and performed and measured)

    so…biggest obstacles: lack of supervisory knowledge/training/oversight, inability to quantitatively reward someone, perception of non-physical rewards as a joke. A lack of training and accountability amongst supervisors about exactly how the reviews should be filled out and done.

    And I think also a managerial attitude of ‘why the heck am i rewarding them for doing what I hired them for in the first place?’ plays into it as well.

  • #128332

    Carol Davison

    YES!!!! There should be very little in a non intell organization that couldn’t be put on the website. The only reason to hide things is because they would cause damamge to the U.S. or they are private (like disciplinary actions on Joe Blow.)

  • #128330

    Carol Davison

    Add collaboration. My entire workplace should be better because I am here. I’m not just accountable for the performance results. (And that’s what they need to look for in leaders.)

  • #128328

    Carol Davison

    Bob, what you are talking about is a reward system. Same Day report managers were rewarded by not getting any pings. No Report managers were punished with pings.

  • #128326

    Carol Davison

    Rewarding is not just money and time off. It’s getting the good assignments, details, tdys, etc and avoidingthe bad ones. Or whatever else the most effective employee desires.

  • #128324

    Carol Davison

    I am now blogging as the Performance Alchemist under Leadership discussions. You can read my responses to your comments there. .

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