Top 10 Reasons for Performance Measurement

There is a growing demand of “show me the data” from citizens and taxpayers, legislators, executive agencies, oversight boards and communities – all of whom exchange money and other support (e.g., trust and confidence) for services -- that courts can ill afford to ignore. Courts need to measure their performance to meet the demand for public accountability. But the benefits of court performance extend beyond accountability including improved prediction, better understanding and control, influence, a sharpened focus on what is important, and discovery of better practices. Objective performance data is central to good management practices like strategic planning, performance-based budgeting, Balanced Scorecards, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Six Sigma. Performance measures allow court leaders and managers, policymakers, legislators and the public to evaluate court programs’ inputs (the resources allocated), outputs (direct results of program or service activities) and outcomes (broad results for those served by the court).

Selecting the right court metrics is much more than simply deciding what to measure. It is a critical part of the court’s overall management, strategic planning, and leadership.

Here are ten top reasons to measure your court’s performance:

Reason 10: What Gets Measured Gets Attention

In their 2001 book, The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business (Harvard Business School Press), Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck contend that human attention is our scarcest and most precious resource. Managing this resource is the new competitive battleground in business, they explain.

The attention, interest, and enthusiasm of the courts’ leaders and managers are the most valuable resources that courts posses. Measurement has a directive function by focusing that attention, interest, and enthusiasm on mission-relevant and goal-relevant activities. The connection between goals and performance has been demonstrated empirically (see Edwin A Locke and Gary P. Latham, "Building a practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation," American Psychologist, Vol. 57, No. 9, September 2002, 705-717).

Performance results are valuable from the perspective of leadership and management because they are unambiguous and actionable. The interesting thing is that the benefits may be seen when a court begins a performance measurement initiative, even before the results are known. For example, in an op ed piece that appeared in the Arizona Republic last Wednesday (September 21), Maricopa Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell used the Court’s performance measurement initiative to help create a “dialogue in the community about what our courts do and how effectively the courts are delivering services and justice.“ This dialogue, she said, “will include you, to share perceptions of your court - the strengths you appreciate and the deficiencies you would like to see corrected.”

Reason 9: What Gets Measured Is Understood and Learned

Measurement helps our understanding of performance, both its intended and unintended aspects. How are we doing? Are things getting better or worse? What are the outcomes of a program or service and how do the outcomes stack up against the inputs? Answers to these simple questions are rich with meaning for the court leader or manager who is willing to listen. Performance measures are also the most effective way for communicating with court stakeholders about the success of programs and services. Use of performance measures that are easily understood demystify the courts for citizens and allow them to know how well programs and services are performing.

Reason 8: What Gets Counted Counts

“What gets measured is what gets done” is an old maxim that is still true today. Measurement clarifies and focuses long term goals and strategic objectives. Performance measurement focuses people’s attention on what really counts, what matters, what is really important. For example, “system uptime,” a simple measure of the ratio of time a computer system is up and running compared to when people need it, easily clarifies and focuses what is important.

Quality Counts: A Manual of Family Court Performance Measurement is a project initiated in 2001 by the Family Court of Delaware to fully integrate the 1999 Family Court Performance Standards and Measures into the leadership, management, planning and day-to-day operations of the court. The double entendre of the projects nickname, “Quality Counts, the Family Court Counts Quality suggests Reason 8.

Reason 7: The Past Predicts the Future

Performance data help identify important trends. Performance measures allow courts to determine effective inputs (i.e., resources the courts use to produce services) and their relationship to outputs and outcomes. For example, a court may be able to predict a crisis and the necessity of a draconian solution (e.g., no more jury trials or an imposed limit on civil trials) if resources are not increased based on a declining clearance ratio (the number of cases heard compared to the number filed) even in the face of increases in productivity measures (number of cases heard per judge).

Reason 6: You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure

Performance measurement enhances management decision making. It allows control of the inputs, outputs and outcomes of performance. Data generated by performance measurement can be used to determine program efficiency and effectiveness and to make decisions about what services to continue, start and stop. Or, in the words of David Osborne and Ted Gaebler in Reinventing Government (Addison Wesley, 1992): “If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure. If you can’t see success, you can’t reward it. If you can’t reward success, you’re probably rewarding failure. If you can’t see success, you can’t learn from it. And, if you can’t recognize failure, you can’t correct it.”

Reason 5: Performance Measurement Foster Creativity

Although it may seem counterintuitive, explain Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book, First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon & Schuster, 1999), standards and measures fuel creativity. This is done by standardizing the ends rather than by dictating the means to achieve them. By standardizing the desired outcome in terms of clear measures (e.g., a clearance ratio of 105 percent) court staff are free to devise creative means to achieve the desired outcome.

Performance measures encourage delegation and discourage “micro-management.” U.S. General George Patton is known to have said that when you don’t tell people what to do, but rather where you want to be, they will surprise you with their ingenuity and diligence.

Reason 4: Performance Data and Measures Increase Accountability

Legislatures, executive agencies and the public used to take it on good faith that the courts were doing what they said they were doing. But courts, like other organizations funded by tax dollars, increasingly are held accountable for their performance. No longer content to prioritize services based on needs and demands, the public wants assurances of effective services at reasonable costs. “Today everyone expects to know what they’re getting for their money,” says Dary Erwin, the director of the nation’s first doctoral program in assessment and measurement at James Madison University. “When we shop at the grocery store, it is helpful to read the breakdown of ingredients, nutrients, sugar and fat content.” Consumers expect accountability and that attitude now extends into the public arena, explains Erwin.

The application of court performance standards and measures is a way to assess what the public gets for its money, to affirm claims of the benefit and values of a service or a program. Relationships between employees and managers, and court leaders and the public become much clearer when outputs and outcomes are measured against commonly accepted standards of performance.

Reason 3: If You Can Demonstrate Results, You Can Win Public Support

Clear performance data, measures and indices constitute powerful information. They speak a common language that influences the court’s stakeholders and the public.

Reason 2: Performance Measurement Suggests Better Practices

Successful managers and leaders determine the results they desire, and then formulate strategies to achieve those results. Clear and actionable performance measures help clarify and focus goals and objectives and aid in the formulation of practices that achieve them.

For example, CourTools Measure 5, Trial Date Certainty (see link in bar at right), may unequivocally show that a court is not providing firm and credible trial dates. National research indicates that a court's ability to set firm trial dates is associated with shorter times to disposition of cases. The performance measure will point to the steps to ensure firm and credible trial dates: (1) disposition of as many cases before the setting of trial dates for those cases; (2) realistic calendar practices; (3) limiting continuances; and (4) a provision for "back-up" judges.

Reason 1: Performances Measurement IS Strategy

Behavioral psychologists know that data collection and measurement, by themselves, can change simple behaviors in complex ways. In our personal lives we take this as common sense. Keeping track of the money we’ve spent, counting calories, and checking the speedometer on our car’s dashboard will change our behaviors without other interventions. Organizational performance measurement can operate in a similar fashion as a powerful strategy for change.

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