Implementing performance measures
In an effort to operate more like businesses, local governments are reassessing how they measure their own performances and that of their employees. To further that effort, local governments are updating many of the criteria used in the past.
Over the years, the questions that would have provided performance measurement information have changed. For example, in evaluating effectiveness in the provision of health care, does the local government count the number of sick people who are treated at the health department, or does it count the number of healthy people who do not need treatment? Similarly, in evaluating public safety, should local government officials consider the number of criminals arrested or the total reduction in crime? Is a good fire department one that successfully fights many fires or one that educates the public to prevent fires?
The measure of success
For a commercial enterprise, the usual measure of success is fairly straightforward: It is the bottom line – the profit. Each division and subdivision can be judged to a large extent by its contribution to that profitability.
That is not true for government, because there is no such thing as profit and because the definition of “bottom line” differs among elected officials, employees, taxpayers, residents and business owners.
Traditionally, people in government have measured success in terms of measurable quantities – permits issued, miles of roads paved, voters registered and percentage of taxes collected. Those outside the government judge its success differently – by the amount of time they must stand in line to fulfill some government obligation, for instance. Many citizens use one criterion – the amount of taxes they pay.
In order to see how it was faring, DeKalb County, Ga., set out to establish a performance management system that would assess each team, section, division and department of the government. Furthermore, local officials decided to base the measurements on the county’s goals and those of its “customers.”
In June 1996, the county established a task force and identified a program focus, as well as goals and objectives. In March 1997, DeKalb officials invited David Ammons, an associate professor of public administration at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of “Municipal Benchmarks: Assessing Local Performance and Establishing Community Standards,” to discuss the concepts of perform-ance measurement with them.
In April 1997, each department developed draft productivity measures, and in June, a Performance Measurement Staff Resource Team was formed to assist in developing and reviewing the drafts. Department heads and senior staff developed and collected measurements in terms of outcome, efficiency, output, demand and input. The effort produced a large set of indicators, many of which had little to do with serving the “customers.”
By July, the departments were refining and narrowing their lists of indicators, each assuming the role of an internal customer and ranking the five most critical performance indicators for other departments. The rankings served as peer reviews and provided a system-wide perspective on what the department heads viewed as important across county operations. Later, the managers narrowed the measures to those that provided a snapshot of how a department was doing in terms of outcome, demand and efficiency.
The final report addresses the county’s focus on service quality as well as quantity. To evaluate its service delivery, each department asked its internal and external customers to complete a customer service survey, which measured the primary elements of service delivery, including timeliness, accuracy, accessibility and professionalism.
Determining exactly who its customers were was one of the first challenges for each department. In some cases – with 911 operators, for example – that was fairly easy. In other cases, e.g., with the county’s airport, the answer was not clear. In the latter case, the county had to decide if its customers were only the owners, pilots and passengers that used the airport or if they included the residents of surrounding neighborhoods.
Establishing performance indicators and soliciting customer feedback has increased communication within DeKalb County government, improved team performance and placed a new emphasis on customer service. It also is beginning to shift the focus of managers to outcomes (how satisfied all involved are with the serv-ice) rather than outputs (the service itself).
It was not easy. Some departments took a wait-and-see approach to the project to determine if leadership was serious or if the whole idea was a passing fad. Intensive training and perform-ance audits convinced the holdouts of the seriousness of the undertaking. With extensive departmental support, the latest submissions of performance measurements showed a vast improvement in the ability to identify customer service outcomes.
– the Animal Control Division of the Department of Public Safety has established goals for responding to Priority 1 calls (dog attacks, etc.), as well as to general calls. The division has not yet met its established goals, but it is receiving high marks from customers who responded to its survey;
– the Emergency Medical Services division of Public Safety has established as its primary goals 1) responding to life support calls within eight minutes and 2) transporting and delivering heart attack patients to the hospital’s intensive care unit alive. Initial customer surveys have been very positive; and
– the county’s Private Industry Council, a federally funded office that provides employment and training services for the un- and under-employed, established nationally recognized performance standards and exceeded all of them. That resulted in the group’s induction into The Enterprise, an organization created by the U.S. Department of Labor to recognize groups with outstanding perform-ances and a demonstrated commitment to quality improvement and customer satisfaction.
DeKalb County’s various departments will continue to measure their success in service delivery and customer satisfaction. Shifting the focus from outputs to outcomes will help the county pursue a philosophy of continuous improvement.