Implementing Performance Measurement

In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, an Iowa corn farmer (Kevin Costner) hears voices that tell him, “If you build it, they will come.” He interprets this message as a command to build a baseball field on his farm. He does and they -- Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other seven Chicago White Sox players banned from the game for throwing the 1919 World Series – come. This works in the movies but it does not work for court performance measurement. It is one thing to build a court performance measurement system (CPMS) and quite another to get the CPMS to be used effectively.

A Pile of Stethoscopes

Kevin Baum, a performance management consultant who works in government outside of the courts, warns us in a recent edition of Perform (Special Edition, Government, no date) that we make a fatal mistake when we declare victory too soon, that is, immediately after we have built a CPMS (see the October 15, 2005, Posting, “Six-Step Process for Building an Effective Court Performance Measurement System”). Baum makes his point with this anecdote:

You’re in a board room waiting for the executive staff meeting to begin when in walks the Director. Under his arm you see 20 stethoscopes, and you think, “What’s up with that?” The stethoscopes aren’t all the same though – they are different sizes, shapes, colors and brands – but yes they are still stethoscopes. The Director, with a broad grin and a tad of flair, tosses all the scopes on the boardroom table and declares in a proud and booming voice, “Look how well we are managed. We are truly a performance-informed organization and I’d like to thank all of you for your efforts.

Baum’s point is that a CPMS, like a stethoscope, is only a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Courts should not declare victory once the CPMS has been built. Like a pile of stethoscopes, a CPMS is essentially meaningless until we get it into the hands of people who can put it to use, understand what it is telling us, and apply what we are learning.

Performance Measures Drive Success

The ability to measure performance is a critical enabler for getting results and achieving goals. Knowing what and how to measure makes a complicated world less so. Because they are unambiguous and actionable, performance measures drive success. Effectively used, they serve both as incentives and as practical tools for justice system improvement. An effective court performance measurement system (CPMS) enables court leaders and managers to:

-- Translate vision, mission and broad goals into clear performance targets
-- Communicate progress and success succinctly in the language of performance measures and indicators
-- Respond to legislative and executive branch representatives’ and the public’s demand for accountability
-- Formulate and justify budget requests
-- Respond quickly to performance downturns (corrections) and upturns (celebrations) in performance
--Provide incentives and motivate court staff to make improvements in programs and services
-- Make resource allocation decisions
-- Set future performance expectations based on past and current performance levels
-- Insulate the court from inappropriate performance audits and appraisals imposed by external agencies or groups

Around the globe, the use performance measurement has spread dramatically in recent years at all levels of government, as well as in private and nonprofit organizations. In the courts community, performance measurement increasingly is seen not only as the best way to improve the quality of programs and services but also to drive major policy reform and organizational transformation.

Performance measurement can fundamentally change the way courts do business. For this to happen, however, a CPMS has to be integrated with a court’s key business processes and day-to-day management. Until the measures are actually used, they will never begin to work for us as tools to improve performance. Worse, warns Kevin Baum, an idle CPMS will alienate the court’s workforce by burdening it with yet another management initiative that suffers from no apparent follow-through.

Implementing a CPMS

Even before a CPMS has been fully built and developed, courts should begin to consider the following two general strategies:

(1) Train court managers and staff on the performance measures of the CPMS. The value of a performance measure lies not in the measure itself but rather in the questions it forces us to ask and how we learn and grow as a result. What is the current or initial performance level? What are the changes over time? What are the acceptable upper and lower boundaries of the particular measure? What are the problems identified by the measure? Given what we know about the measurement, what performance expectations should we have in the future? Managers and court staff need to be thoroughly familiar with the functions of the performance measures that these questions highlight – baselining and benchmarking, control, trend spotting, problem diagnosis, and operational and strategic planning – for the court as a whole and, importantly, for their area of responsibility.

(2) Integrate performance measurement with the court’s key operations and management processes. Yes, performance measurement can fundamentally change the way a court does business, but it will not happen by itself. They will not come into the field of dreams simply because the CPMS is rolled out. If a court’s leadership and management are to become truly performance-based, performance measurement has to become hard-wired into the very DNA of the court’s organizational culture.

Some of this is simple and straightforward. For example, automated performance measurement displays can identify specific court staff as “owners” of the performance measures who can be queried (“Why was there a downturn in trial certainty this month even though we tightened our continuation policies?”) with an email function linked to the measure on the display. Court leaders can decide to make the results of core performance measures a standing item on executive meeting agendas. Only those measures that require action – i.e., those that fall outside of the lower and upper control boundaries -- are discussed. Falling below the lower controls will stimulate improvement actions and exceeding upper controls (goals) will be cause for recognition and, perhaps, celebration.

Aligning performance measurement with other key management processes like strategic planning, budgeting, quality improvement, and human resource management may be more demanding but not necessarily difficult or complex. For example, a court’s ability to develop measurable performance objectives is critical to success of its strategic planning process. A strategic goal like maintain a high-performance workplace is made useful only if it is translated into a measurable objective such as workforce strength, commitment and engagement exceeds 80% as measured by a quarterly survey of court employees. A CPMS that includes a measure of workforce strength not only facilitates development of a strategic plan by giving definition to goals and objectives but also establishes the mechanism by which the strategic plan is put into action.

Future postings will explore the specific steps for training and aligning a CPMS with key court operations and management practices.

Copyright CourtMetrics 2005. All rights reserved.

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