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Performance Management Act II – Overcoming Challenges

Theatre-stage-curtainsThere is an old saying, “the second act is the best” because it delves deeper into the meat of a story, including challenges and the rising actions in response to them. So it may be with the story of Government performance management.

Federal Managers have seen many plot twists impacting governance since the early 90’s when performance management was first introduced. Today’s setting involves rapidly emerging scenarios, threats, and technologies; tighter budgets; loftier expectations of satisfaction; and greater coordination, all unfolding on the big stage of transparency, with the public in a front row seat. It’s enough to cause stage fright, but fortunately, there are ways to overcome these challenges. It involves:

  • Understanding the context of performance management in today’s federal government.
  • Applying best practices to change the culture of performance management, in order to benefit from it.

Here are seven recommendations for transforming a mandated requirement into an accepted approach for continuous improvement.

Act I: A New Concept

The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) (P.L. 103-62) of 1993 is commonly referred to as the foundation for the Government performance management system. Its intent was to improve governance by requiring agencies to set goals, measure results, and report progress.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Significant amendments to laws, a more complex setting, and increased oversight have spawned multiple challenges. Because of the impact the Federal Government has in our society through its missions and service delivery, effective governance is essential to maximize return on invested taxpayer funds. Consequently, a new vision of performance management effecting and reflecting major change is needed.

Act II: Performance Management Matures

The GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA) of 2010, which I refer to as GPRA’s Act II, reflects the lessons learned of GPRA and the need to take Performance Management to the next level by changing an organization’s focus from having a performance system to one of using it to continuously improve.

To realize the vision of GPRAMA, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updated its Circular A-11, Part 6 and developed a new performance management system. In an IBM Center report, author Donald Moynihan, a University of Wisconsin professor, identified three of the most significant changes reflected in the new performance system:

  • A stronger framework to encourage performance information use.  A key aspect is to designate a small number (e.g., 2-8) of agency priority goals the agency leader commits to improving within a two-year time frame, and to update them quarterly. Another feature is the use of a central website, It promotes transparency, leading to greater accountability and even greater performance based on the Hawthorne effect (an individual’s improved performance upon awareness of being observed).
  • The requirement to improve performance through networks. Today’s complex missions coupled with the need for greater efficiency requires coordination and collaboration across broad value chains. Agencies must work together to achieve cross-agency priority (CAP) goals. This means creating ways to align stakeholder goals and create new ways (e.g. networks, architectures, incentive systems) to drive shared accountability.
  • The need to use the performance system to make strategic choices. As budgets decrease, the value of a performance management system increases. If the system is not used, it will not provide value to its recipients. To promote usage, new processes feature periodic reviews of priority goals, such as the strategic objective annual review (SOAR) which reinforces strategic thinking.


In the President’s FY2014 Budget, there is an entire section wholly dedicated to creating “a culture of performance government.” It emphasizes practices such as goal setting, performance measurement, analysis, and data-driven reviews and decisions.

Based on my experience, here are seven areas to consider to improve the management of your organization’s performance:

  1. Formulate operational planning and process methodologies. Begin by considering the policy, budget, staffing and skills needed to support current and future activities. Apply Business Process Management (BPM) methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma to enable a well-managed organization that maps process to performance. Large-scale cultural change management requires time. Consider implementing a phased, measured program such as John P. Kotter’s 8 Steps to transform an agency’s view of performance information from one of compliance to one of learning and leading from it.
  2. Establish strategic planning links between agency level planning and division-specific processes. Create a strategy to communicate and engage with internal and external stakeholders to show how their actions relate to the overarching mission, goals, and national good.
  3. Design initiatives to achieve operational efficiency and effectiveness. Celebrate success by sharing examples of how performance management best practices translate to tangible improvements internally and externally. For example, when a team I supported achieved their target of obtaining benchmark status with their Capital Investment Portfolio scorecard, I lauded their performance publicly as a shining example of how to partner with the client to apply performance management best practices to deliver value.
  4. Provide performance management training. Understand staff competencies, then develop training and education on performance measurement, as well as on applying best practices across major performance management life cycle areas like planning, measuring, evaluating, analyzing, reviewing and reporting. Ensure the training is delivered through multiple methods.
  5. Prioritize data collection. Ensure sufficient mechanisms (e.g., reviews, pilots, prototypes, experiments) capture feedback and lessons learned (“what worked and what needs fixing”), and that they are adjudicated and applied correctly.
  6. Conduct benchmarking. Compare performance to other divisions, agencies, and the private sector.
  7. Adopt a 360 approach to drive performance improvement (e.g., top-down support and positive tone, empowering local ingenuity, leveraging a Program Management Office (PMO) to manage and track change initiatives.

Performance Management is more than laws, regulations, and compliance. It’s a culture that helps organizations use data and information to continuously learn and improve. This leads to doing the right things and doing the right things right. In other words, an accomplishment worth a standing ovation!