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Creating Modern Governmental Agencies – Best Practices from the USA

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“We can’t ignore facts. We can’t ignore data.” – Barack Obama, former President of the United States

The initiative of raising awareness on the importance of having a performance-oriented culture within government is becoming a more and more prevalent theme across the globe, whether we’re looking at transportation performance, poverty reduction, bureaucratic efficiency or environmental performance.

So where does the United States of America, one of the most powerful countries on Earth, stand on this point?

Well, several senior federal leaders have joined forces and developed a two-year long Agency Priority Goals Plan, in areas where governmental entities were focused on accelerated performance improvement.

To enhance the collaboration between agencies, several Cross-Agency Priority Goals were also established, and in order to better manage these goals, Performance.gov was born.

The online portal, Performance.gov is a communication enabler between external and internal stakeholders. As a benefit of focusing on defining strategic goals and KPIs, the Federal Government reported to be operating more effectively since agency leaders have set clear, measurable goals, which are cascaded down at all organizational levels.

This further reinforces the main goal of KPI data: to strengthen priorities, support decision-making and indicate improvement opportunities.

The following is a summary of the key messages which lie at the heart of implementing a performance-oriented culture among governmental agencies:

“A goal is a simple, but powerful way to motivate people and communicate priorities.”

Clarifying what the organization wants to achieve and conveying this message into a simple, actionable objective is the first step towards improved performance.

Federal leaders have been reported to be more effective when directions are clear & consistent and in time, they become more motivated to achieve the established standards and can use these strategic goals as a guiding compass for decision-making.

Agencies

Collaboration is the key to success

The USA is a federal republic, consisting of 50 states. Public administration, whether federal or local can pose significant challenges in terms of effort alignment and synchronization regarding decision-making. This is why alignment was critical in the process of shaping the governmental performance management system and working on this aspect was seen as the second step to reaching higher performance levels..

In practice, to ensure that state agencies are not exclusively focusing on reaching solely their own targets and to reduce the risks of developing a tunnel behavior approach, Cross-Agency Goals were set in place. To reach these goals, the agencies must work together and true synergy must be created between different entities involved in successfully meeting a goal.

Structure is important in communicating strategy

Oftentimes, in many organizations, the words “goal” and “objective” are confusing. So as a third step, structuring the strategy on different layers and clarifying terminology can significantly facilitate inter-agency communication and offer a better understanding of the organization’s desired progress.

When it comes to the USA Government’s Performance Framework, the structure is as follows:

Strategic Goal – indicating the main strategic direction, such as: “Increase college access, affordability, quality, and completion by improving post secondary education and lifelong learning opportunities for youths and adults.”


Objective – specific objective to be reached under the goal, for example “Close the opportunity gap by improving the affordability of and access to college and/or workforce training, especially for underrepresented and/or underprepared populations”.


Indicator – each objective has its own set of indicators that are used to measure performance levels and the associated targets, as it can be observed in the table below:

Agencies

Objective leaders for improved accountability

A fourth step was to look at accountability. In their role as objective leaders, decision makers are responsible for ensuring that projects and decisions are always implemented, in order to reach the objectives assigned to them.

Individuals develop an increased sense of accountability towards reaching targets when their name is officially associated with an objective.

Furthermore, another initiative that contributes to increased responsibility is involving objective leaders into the target setting process.

Performance transparency to meet the informational needs of stakeholders

Last, but not least, we have to remember that modern governments rely on technological advancements to communicate with internal and external stakeholders. A frequent practice in the last decade among both developed and developing countries is to have a dedicated, online governmental platform to manage performance at all governmental levels in a transparent manner.

Transparency can be easily ensured through online platforms that display all strategic aspects, such as goals, objectives, indicators, projects, as well as performance levels, for those agencies using the platform.

An important element that should be considered when communicating with stakeholders is to correctly identify what type of information is relevant for them and display it in the most effective format. On this topic, Performance.gov requests the feedback of website users regarding how the available information is communicated, in order to constantly improve the user interface.

When all things are considered, we’re reminded that just as President Obama stated, “data is at the core of what an organization does”, guiding decisions and strategic plans. Moreover, data provides credibility in front of stakeholders.

Day in and day out, governments are pressured by citizens to demonstrate the added value they provide to societies all over the world and as such, they are held accountable for how a nation’s resources are spent.

Modern governments are becoming more data driven and transparent, and performance management practices will no longer be exceptions, but the norm among public administrations worldwide.

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