Using Performance Data: Regular Data-Initiated Reviews

March 31, 2016

I am pleased to provide this post as the first in a series of tips for local government leaders on key issues in performance measurement and management. This initial post encourages managers and supervisors to implement a straightforward, you-can’t-lose-if-done-right approach to effective use of performance data.

You have collected data on performance indicators that indicate how successful you have been in achieving your goals. So how do you put the performance information to work?

Schedule meetings with your staff in regular, in-person reviews of the performance data, using the data to help identify progress in meeting goals.

At these meetings, together with staff:

  • Use the data to help identify PROBLEM AREAS.
  • Discuss WHY the problem exists.
  • Identify ACTIONS to alleviate or eliminate the problems.
  • Identify WHO needs to do WHAT and by WHEN.
  • At the beginning of subsequent meetings, ask for the STATUS of actions called for in previous meetings.

This is pretty straightforward stuff but seldom practiced by local governments on a regular basis.

These data-driven reviews are sometimes called “How Are We Doing?” or “PerformanceStat” meetings. New York City’s Police Department has widely been credited with first implementing this approach (CompStat) in the mid-1990s. The Mayor of Baltimore (Maryland) further popularized the approach with its CitiStat program—holding sessions regularly with each city department. Congress and the Office of Management and Budget officially introduced the approach into the federal government a variation as part of the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010.

In local governments, this approach has been most used by the top appointed or elected official or department head. The basic approach, however, can be adapted by any level of manager or supervisor if reasonably relevant performance data are available on the activities under the responsibility of the manager/supervisor.

Many managers/supervisors already meet regularly with their staffs. These data-driven performance review meetings might easily be slotted into the schedule.

Reviews can focus on individual departments or individual services. They can also focus on cross-cutting themes, such as youth crime or homelessness. In that case, the review would involve staff from other departments or service areas, such as public safety, housing, and social services.

Good Practices: Tips for Success

Conducting these review meetings is a potentially terrific approach with little downside. Here are some tips to ensure they are as productive as possible:

  • Assure that the leadership participates actively in the process and attends most meetings.
  • Schedule performance data review sessions regularly, such as monthly or quarterly to maintain momentum.
  • Prior to the meeting, have someone with an interest in analysis examine the data to identify questions/problems raised by the data. The analysis should identify both disappointing performance and performance that exceeds expectations. The latter provides opportunities for building on successes as well as for congratulations. The person examining the data might be any staff member or even the leader—if that person enjoys playing with numbers and has time.
  • Invite to the meetings any persons in the government who might have a significant interest or role in the activities to be reviewed. For example, for at least some meetings, the budget, procurement, and legal officers might be of assistance.
  • Make sure that the relevant performance data are readily available to all expected participants in advance of the meeting. Make sure the performance reports provided are clear, and to the extent possible, attractively presented.
  • Frame the meetings positively. If the tone is negative or punitive, it will be more difficult to engage the staff in productive problem solving.
  • Document the actions to be taken and by whom and by when. Send this information to all participants soon after the meeting.
  • Follow up on the progress of the identified actions. Follow up on the results of the actions you identified. Follow up on the results of the actions you identified. This is vital.

The graph below from a recent Montgomery County, Maryland, CountyStat meeting focused on pedestrian safety. Presentations such as this provide a starting point for examination and discussion. For example, why did collisions peak in the fall and early winter months? And what might be done to reduce the number of future collisions during those seasonal periods?

The central point is to recognize that, although leadership may originate at the most senior level, performance management is a responsibility of staff throughout the organization. It’s essential to harness the creativity and energy of everyone with a stake in improving services. For these meetings to be really successful and sustained over time, the meetings need the continued enthusiasm of the manager/supervisor—so that they will lead to action that produces results.

This post originally appeared on the website for the International City/Council Management Association.