Creating an Environment Receptive to Performance Measurement

An employee of a large urban court recently confessed to me her opinion about her court’s performance measurement initiative. (She did so reluctantly because she knew that I’m a strong advocate of court performance measurement.) She told me this: The results of the court’s access and fairness survey of court users holds about as much interest for me as the details of the presiding judge’s travel schedule – interesting, but not something that is relevant to what I do everyday.

Hers was not an isolated viewpoint in the court. Even though the survey results were made readily available in the court newsletter and other printed materials distributed by the court, most mid-level managers and line staff paid little attention. Some viewed the survey data as yet another brainchild of upper management that would translate into additional work, and nothing more, if they were not careful.

This is a problem that needs fixing. You can’t advance an idea in an unreceptive environment.

Getting With the Program

In any change initiative -- including the development of a court performance measurement system (CPMS) -- it is generally well understood that we must prepare the environment to accept the idea or the concept. We know it requires “proof of concept” or “getting buy-in” from the top. Usually, this means getting upper level decision makers, and maybe a critical mass of the judges, to go along with the idea and to give the green light for its development.

So much for upper management. But what about the rank-and-file in the court’s operational environment – the real marketplace in which ideas either live and grow, or wither and die? They may not hear or know anything about the change that’s coming until it’s upon them in the form of a report with exhortations by upper management to get with the program.

Let’s suppose your court has marshaled considerable resources and effort to develop a comprehensive CPMS including measures of timely case processing, cost, court user and employee engagement, and other indicators of organizational effectiveness. The question “How are we doing?” can now be answered in terms of the court as a whole, by division, and by various other perspectives. Leaders and managers are enthusiastically on board. You have built the CPMS, but will they come?

Preparing the Environment

Many courts are at this point or close to it with their performance management initiatives. The problem is that the operational environment and culture of these courts remains unreceptive -- or even hostile -- to the idea of performance measurement. Overworked court staff ask: “Why should I care?” “What difference do these numbers make to me and the work I have to do every day?”

It may be understandable that a large percentage of court employees – including judges and managers -- are no more motivated to change the way they do business by court performance numbers than they are by the presiding judge’s travel schedule. Why should they be if they can’t make the connection to their own work in the court?

Court performance measurement is in danger – not just the initiatives in a particular court but the court performance measurement and management-by-results “movement” as a whole – unless we answer this question, unless we make the connection. It is simply not smart, I think, to assume that performance measurement is plug-and-play. As I’ve written in previous posts, performance measurement is no field of dreams and build-it-and-they-will-come simply will not work.

Here are some of the things I think we need to do:

Measure what matters, count what counts. Because people do not commit themselves to a performance measure per se, but rather to the purpose of the measure, court leaders and managers promoting performance measurement first need to communicate the answers to critical questions about how the measurement of employee engagement and satisfaction, for example, relates to key success factors for the court: How does employee engagement relate to improved service to those served by the court? Why is it important? Why does it matter that we measure it?

Defining the desired results of tasks, processes, and programs is not easy for court leaders because there is often more than one right answer. We are most certainly right when we define results in terms of satisfying the customer (court user) and engaging court employees. We are also right when we define results in terms of timely case processing. But it is up to court leaders to make it absolutely clear what the results should be. This is the point where the individual employees's job and the mission of the court converge and have to be connected and harmonized.

But more needs to be done.

Establish a clear line of sight. Educate everyone in the court about how the specific results of performance measurement relate not only to what’s important to the court as a whole but also to the work of individual staff doing particular jobs. Those responsible for the performance measurement system must integrate the specialized knowledge and tasks of every employee into the common performance identified by a particular performance measure.

After the idea (at this point, the performance initiative is only an idea) is sufficiently promoted and has taken hold, managers and staff should be adequately trained on how to read and understand the measure, what the results mean to them, and specifically how they can use the results to improve their performance.

This seems daunting and it is. It requires considerable training on the purposes, definitions, and uses of performance measures.

In many courts there is a disconnectedness between what upper management does (e.g., strategic planning, court-wide performance management) and what line-staff does (e.g., case processing, record keeping). Making a meaningful connection between them by establishing a line of sight between strategic and operational performance measures can cause significant improvements in performance.

Provide incentives. Set short-term and long-term goals and targets for teams, units and divisions. Reward those who are successful in meeting these new goals and targets. Consider gainsharing programs.

Hard wire performance measurement into the DNA of the court. 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.

It is one thing to build a CPMS and maybe to get it to be used once or twice. It is quite another thing for it to be used on a regular and continuous basis.

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