Decentralized Innovation and Improvement

Court systems have concentrated too much authority for continuous improvement at the top where there are good intentions, but relatively few resources and little capacity. Court performance data are delivered too little and too late, if at all.

When performance is presented to staff, it is often done so in endless documents stuffed with indecipherable figures and statistics, to make much of a difference. Performance data is a virtual temple secret that only the priests (designated top-management and analysts) can read and interpret.

Courts should seek to give all court employees all the performance measurement information they need to make improvements themselves. Courts should tap into the capacities of all court employees to track and analyze performance data and to devise solutions to problems.

A similar strategy, referred to as “radical transparency,” was advocated as a road map for economic recovery in a “manifesto” written by Daniel Roth in Wired March 2009: “Instead of assigning oversight responsibility to a finite group of bureaucrats,” writes Roth, “we should enable every investor to act as a citizen-regulator. We should tap into the massive processing power of people around the world by giving everyone the tools to track, analyze, and publicize financial machinations. The result would be a wave of decentralized innovation.”

Decentralized innovation and improvement are central to "open book management," a management approach created by Jack Stack and popularized by John Case in his 1995 book, Open-Book Management: The Coming Business Revolution (New York: Harper Business). Its aim is to give employees all relevant information (the focus is on financial information) about their company so they can make better decisions as workers.

The concept behind open book management is the same as that supporting "line of sight" in performance measurement and management. That is, in order for performance measures to be practical tools and to serve 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 system. 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:

-- Give all employees access to all performance data on a self-help basis. Line of sight can be created by computer based graphic displays in performance dashboards.

-- 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.

-- Give employees training to understand and to use the performance information available to them including an intensive system of performance review meetings to keep employees informed about the status of the court in terms of its performance measures.

-- Give employees ownership and responsibility for the numbers under their control. If the performance measure rises above the control level, the “owner” of the measure is held accountable.

-- Give employees a stake in how the court performs.

One proponent of open book management, Ed Dorian, the president and chief operation officer of a White Plains, N.Y., company, was quoted as saying in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “I saw open book as an opportunity … to send a message to our staff that said, ‘We trust you. And we not only trust your intentions, but we trust your ability to help us.’” (Laura Lorber, “An Open Book: When Companies Share Their Financial Data With Their Employees, the Results Cab Be Dramatic,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2009, R8).

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