Finding the Right Performance Measures Simplifies Strategic Planning

A strategic plan is useless if it does not lead to strategic thinking and strategic acting. Developing a strategic plan under such circumstances is wasted effort.

The process and steps of identifying desired performance measures serve as a simplified and, in many ways, a superior approach to strategic planning. Because they are unambiguous and actionable, effective performance measures provide a more direct path to strategic thinking and acting than formal strategic planning. A focus on finding the right performance measures also side-steps many of the processes and exercises that engage busy managers (often for lengthy periods of time) – visioning, SWOT analysis, and identifying cognitive styles – but have questionable practical value for making better current decisions.

Plumb the Meaning of Life or Watch Your Cholesterol

Suppose you’re a 50 year old who is taking stock of your life. You’re ready to tackle important issues like personal health, family, and work. Because you’re a fan of Phillip McGraw (“Dr. Phil”) and his book, Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, and you are somewhat familiar with strategic planning, you decide to do some serious lifetime personal planning using the elements of formal planning.

You start by thinking about preferred futures, about what really matters to you, your values and your mission in life, about your strategic goals for your health, for your children and spouse, and about how good health will benefit your time with them, and so forth. You consider whether you can afford that elliptical trainer that you’ve had your eye on for quite some time. Your wife or husband tells you to go back to the Atkins diet that you abandoned some time ago. Your son tells you to join him at the YMCA where he swims 50 laps every morning at 5:00 am. And your friend tells you to quit your job. You’re overwhelmed by all the competing interests, by the lack of focus, and by the complexity of it all.

In your yearly physical, your doctor commends your resolve to plumb the deep meaning of your life and your commitment to engage in strategic lifetime planning. But he suggests a simpler approach, a more focused way to better health that depends on rigorous tests and benchmarks. He tells you that you need to monitor your cholesterol and your blood pressure on a regular basis. The rest will take care of itself, he says. He tells you that doing something simple like monitoring cholesterol levels and blood pressure improves the health and well-being of many of his patients. In other words, what gets counted and measured gets attention, and gets done.

We, of course, know that cholesterol level is not health, just like case clearance is not productivity or efficiency, and time-to-disposition is not timeliness. Effective performance measures are almost always proxies of outcomes or concepts – they are not the thing itself. To varying degrees, measures are a removed and highly simplified version of the outcome of interest. That’s what makes them so valuable for strategic thinking and acting. They are used in order to make it possible to measure the outcome of actions easily, routinely, and at a reasonable cost. It’s easier to tackle cholesterol levels and blood pressure than the concept of health.

The Same Benefits

The benefits of an effective court performance measurement system are the same as those of strategic planning – accountability, consensus building, focus, coordination, control, learning, communication, hope and inspiration. To identify the right performance measures, a court or court system must address the same fundamental questions about guiding ideals, values, mission, goals and broad strategies as it must address in strategic planning. We count what counts and measure what matters. And what we measure determines what will be considered relevant.

Action Point: Design an effective court performance measurement system and develop a strategic plan as a byproduct.

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