Eight Tips for Making Use of Court Performance Measures

The road to success is always under construction.

LilyTomlin, American Actor and Comedian

Earlier this year, Made2Measure posted 10 tips for designing performance measures. Once you’ve designed the measures, here a eight more to ensure that the measures get used.

Tip #1. Build a performance dashboard, scorecard or other effective display of your performance measures. It makes no sense to take the steps of designing the right performance measures and assembling critical performance information if the data are not delivered to the right people, at the right time, and in the right way. That’s where performance dashboards, scorecards or display systems come in. The goal of creating a performance measurement display system is to provide intended users with meaningful information that they can quickly and easily access, assimilate and understand. An effective display enables court leaders, managers and other users to monitor, analyze, and manage the critical processes and activities needed to achieve goals. Computer-based performance displays -- often referred to as performance dashboards or scorecards -- let busy managers and staff view performance measures at a glance, and then move easily through successive levels of actionable strategic, tactical and operational performance information to get the insight they need to solve problems and to improve program and services.

Tip #2. Install management aids into performance dashboards. In addition to a speedometer, tachometer, odometer, trip meter, temperature and fuel gauge on the instrument panel of your car, there are indicator lights that tell you when oil pressure or fuel is low, when your seatbelt is not fastened, your door is ajar, and when your car needs maintenance. Similar features should be part of your performance dashboard. They may include an electronic alert to the “owner” (see Tip #5) of a core or subordinate measure that has fallen below or risen above control levels, and an automatic calendaring function that puts discussion of “exceptions” on the calendar of the court executive committee (see Tip #6). Such management aids are part of most computer software applications referred to as business performance management (BPM) software, business intelligence (BI) solutions, or simply “performance dashboards,” offered by an increasing number of technology companies including Microsoft, Microstrategy, SAS, SPSS, PerformanceSoft®, Cognos®, and BusinessObjects®, to name just a few.

Tip #3. Adequately train court managers and staff on your performance measures. 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 – baselines 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.

Tip #4. Institute open book management. Open book management is a management technique popularized by John Case in his 1995 book, Open-Book Management: The Coming Business Revolution (New York: Harper Business). As the name implies, its aim is to give employees all relevant financial information about their company so they can make better decisions as workers. The idea of open book management is the same as that supporting the concept of line of sight. That is, in order for performance measures to be practical tools and to serves as incentives for improvement -- for measures to be motivational -- there must be a line of sight between the measure and actions that can be taken by employees at various levels of the court. It conveys to everyone what the drivers of success are and provides them with the concrete knowledge of how they contribute to that success. Here are the basic rules of open book management extended beyond financial information to all performance data available to court managers and staff as part of a comprehensive court performance measurement system (CPMS):
  • Give all employees access to all performance data on a self-help basis. Line of sight court performance metrics and measurement hierarchies can be created by computer based graphic displays, dashboards, or scorecards of core performance measures, measurement hierarchies, navigation techniques, definitions, explanations, and references.
  • Give employees a simple performance scorecard. Because employees may not be naturally drawn to mind-numbing sets of numbers, open book management relies on the “critical number” and a “scorecard” that brings all the critical numbers together. (See Tip #1)
  • Give employees training to understand and use the performance information available to them including an intensive system of meetings, called "huddles," to keep employees informed about the status of the court in terms of its performance measures. (See Tip #3)
  • Give employees ownership and responsibility for the numbers under their control. If the performance measure – let’s say the median number of jail days for pretrial detainees – rises above the control level, the “owner” of the measure is held accountable (see Tip #5).
  • Give employees a stake in how the court performs. If, on the other hand, the median number of jail days for pretrial detainees drops below the target level, the “owner” is given credit for reducing jail days and attendant costs.

Openness and transparency are hallmarks of good government, but commonly they are seen as applicable primarily to a court’s external stakeholders. Open book management applies these hallmarks to a court’s internal stakeholders – its employees.


Tip #5. Assign owners for all core measures. Courts should assign specific court managers and 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. For example, a director of human resources in a medium or large court might be assigned the owner of Measure 9, Employee Opinion, of the CourTools.


Tip #6. Place performance measures on your agenda. Court leaders should make the results of core performance measures a standing item on executive team meeting agendas. The team addresses four questions at every executive meeting: (1) What is the current performance level compared to established upper and lower “controls” (e.g., performance targets, objectives, benchmarks and tolerance levels)? (2) What does performance look like over time? Is it better, worse or flat? How much variability is there? (3) What happened to make performance decline, improve or stay the same. What are some credible explanations? (4) What should be done to improve poor performance, reverse and declining trend, or to celebrate or recognize good performance (i.e., one that reached or exceeded upper controls?


Question 1 and 2 are answered quickly within a few minutes. The lower and upper controls for each core measure allow the executive team members to be comfortable with delving deeper into the data only with select measures that warrant their attention. By prior agreement, only those core measures out of range will be discussed by the executive team, except if issues are raised by the meeting participants (e.g., some recent event has made it likely that a particular measure will soon decline precipitously even though it is currently in control). Those executive team members and managers assigned ownership of measures that are currently out of range -- who already know they will be asked to explain what happened to make performance decline or improve, and what should be done about it -- are not caught surprise and are well prepared to answer Question 3 and 4 about “their” measures.Making performance measurement results a standing item on executive meeting agendas (Tip #6) and assigning ownership of performance measures (Tip #5) are just two relatively simple techniques for integrating performance measurement into the court’s management practices and processes. Executive team members focus on what’s most important and don’t get bogged down on too much data.

Tip #7. Make performance measures a part of the budget process. For many court managers, making their budget process more performance-based is the primary motivation for developing court performance measures. Budgeting is a rational and systematic way of estimating and allocating resources. Performance based budgeting or results-based budgeting, and related approaches like activity-based budgeting (ABB) and activity-based costing (ABC), are methods of budgeting that link resource estimates and appropriations to outputs and outcomes. The major elements of performance-based budgeting are defining goals and objectives, developing measures of performance aligned with those goals and objectives, linking spending decisions to results, and accountability for results. Performance-based budgeting has been around for over forty years. The early approaches focused mainly on the relationships between inputs and outputs. In recent years, the emphasis on outcomes -- the benefits of the programs for its recipients and participants -- has made performance- based budgeting a "hot" topic for courts.

In many ways, the need and attraction of performance based budgeting comes from the obvious shortcomings of the traditional budgeting process: a negotiation between court managers and funding authorities over some relatively small percentage change over last year’s budget (or the budget of a court in the same class) -- a negotiation that rarely reaches issues of efficiency and effectiveness. Further, standard accounting principles only prevent court managers from stealing money, but they do little to stop them from wasting it. Using performance measures for budgeting is a big challenge for all government, not just courts. According to at least one expert, Phillip Joyce, assistant professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, performance-based budgeting is “unambiguously desirable but quite complicated to carry out in practice.” Further, he states, "the task of developing measures pales in comparison to the challenge inherent in trying to use performance measures as a basis for budget decision making."


As the saying goes, get on the bus or be hit by it. Better yet, drive the bus. Court managers are not likely to resist performance-based budgeting by refuting its desirability. Instead, they should embrace the need, desirability and rationale for performance-based budgeting, and take an active part in its design, development, testing and implementation.

Tip #8. Integrate performance measurement with all of court’s key operations and management processes, not just the budget process. Yes, performance measurement can fundamentally change the way a court does business, but it will not happen by itself. 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. 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.

More Than a List of Measures

A court performance measurement system (CPMS) is more than a list of measures. It is, instead, a set of interacting and interdependent processes of routine collection, analysis, synthesis, delivery, display and use of performance data that enable a court to measure, monitor and manage its performance effectively. There are three major requirements for designing an effective CPMS:

  1. Identifying, designing and developing the right measures -- measures that will actually help to achieve desired results.
  2. Ensuring that the performance measures are available to the right people, at the right time, in the right place and in the right way.
  3. Formulating and executing strategy based on the performance information – i.e., integrating the CPMS with key management processes such as budgeting and finance, resource and workload allocation, strategic planning, organizational management, and staff development.

The first two equirements depend on an effective design process. The third is the key to effective implementation and institutionalization of performance measurement. It will not happen by itself. 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. A court performance measurement system (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.


We’ve have made great strides toward meeting the first requirement above by the introduction of the CourTools. That success has highlighted the need to give some serious thought to the second and third requirements. So what do we do when we have the performance measures? Yes, performance measurement can fundamentally change the way a court does business, but it will not happen by itself. Users 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.


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