At its core, performance management is about learning and improving. It involves asking really good questions, collecting and analyzing information, and ultimately delivering the best possible results for your clients.
Despite considerable pressure for accountability, relatively few social service agencies have developed a strong performance management capacity. There are two areas of capacity, building performance systems and creating a performance culture. While there is no recipe for this work, there are some common ingredients and a number of useful starting points.
Performance systems provide clarity about the agency’s goals and translate lofty aspirations into concrete measures and data. This clarity, together with supportive reporting systems, provides critical alignment around expectations and reality from the board room to the front lines.
Many agencies lack mission-driven objectives, leading them to chase funding opportunities (particularly government contracts). Similarly, their data systems typically reflect funder requirements and do not capture information necessary for managing program quality or assessing program outcomes.
In order to move forward many agencies find it necessary to revisit their mission, not to rewrite it, but to more clearly define it by connecting the ideas to goals, strategies and program outcomes. For other agencies, a valuable step forward is building a new data collection system. The transition to a new database is a major undertaking and typically requires deciding on a database that can meet internal needs and funder needs, is user-friendly and easily adjusts to changing program needs.
Done well, the process of building performance systems will educate and engage staff and prepares the foundation for the second major undertaking – creating a performance culture.
For many agencies, defining outcomes and building data systems turns out to be the easy part. To shift to a performance culture, the first step must be to define it. One method is to engage the entire staff in a conversation about what practices and behaviors are needed to deliver the best possible results for clients. The entire staff can then use a culture self-assessment tool to reveal how well current practice stacks up against the ideal. This tool will help leaders and staff pinpoint where big issues are lurking and provides a way to assess progress.
With the help of regular staff feedback, the leadership team will discover many tactics to reinforce the new culture such as changes to recruitment practices, management training, management evaluation, communication processes and promotion and recognition practices. In the end, nothing changes unless individuals adopt new practices and behaviors.
To support this work, coaching can help the leadership team anticipate challenges ahead and learn from tactics that have worked elsewhere. Coaching for individual leaders can also be critical to changing long-standing patterns of behavior.