Needed: An Instructions Manual for Implementing Performance Measurement

We can easily imagine how we might use a hammer or some other practical tool. Not so for conceptually complex management tools like performance measurement. And therein lies a problem.


Sure, we’re quick to claim that performance measurement improves performance and accountability, that it can change the way courts do business. We point out that performance measures are unambiguous and actionable, that they serve as incentives for change.

We can even pony up of a nifty list of uses for performance measures:
  • 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; and,
  • communicate better with the public to build confidence and trust.

But what, precisely, are we doing when we are doing these things? I can visualize myself clearly swinging a hammer to build shelves in our utility room, but I have no such clarity in imagining what I might be doing when I use performance measurement to justify budget requests, for example.

How precisely do we use court performance measures as part of performance-based budgeting or management-for-results approaches initiated by city, county or state executive branches? How precisely do we respond to performance downturns? I fear that until we’re able to answer such questions, court performance measurement will not fulfill its promise.

No Field of Dreams

Previous posts (Implementing Performance Measurement, November 12, 2005; Implementation: How It Looks When You Get There, December 13, 2005; and Eight Tips for Making Use of Performance Measurement, October 9, 2006), explored what it takes to implement a court performance measurement system (CPMS). In these posts, I suggested that is one thing to build a CPMS and quite another to get it to be used effectively. Even a well-conceived, well-designed CPMS, will not necessarily get used unless it is woven into the very fabric of a court’s management practices and processes. “If you build it, they will come” works in the movies. (In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, an Iowa corn farmer played by 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.)

For performance measurement to be truly effective in changing the way a court does business, performance measures have to be hard-wired into the very DNA of the court’s leadership, management and organizational culture. Tips for achieving this are a good start but they are not enough. What’s needed is the kind of specific “how to” instruction my home improvement manual gives me for using my hammer to install an electrical box, to put up shelves in the utility room, and to tear down a wall.

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