Managers urged to focus on improving results, not making excuses

Federal managers are bombarded with theories on how to improve agency performance, but become frustrated when they try to apply those practices, according to a new report.

But managers should stop making excuses and persevere in the quest for the highest quality public service at the lowest cost, according to the report, "Start Where You Are, Use What You Have" from the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government.

"There are all these [management] theologies out there," said Chris Wye, author of the report and director of the Center for Improving Government Performance at the National Academy of Public Administration. "But the core concepts are really so simple."

Extensive conversations with managers over the past decade have convinced Wye, who worked as a manager at the Department of Housing and Urban Development before joining NAPA, that the obstacles to measuring results are significant, but not insurmountable. For performance-based management to succeed, managers must use all the tools at their disposal and encourage employees to embrace a results-oriented work environment, the report said.

For example, managers who claim they don't have any data with which to measure results should look for ways to use, modify or add to existing data systems, Wye said. Managers should also avoid becoming bogged down in statistical or empirical methodology. Simple phone calls to a few field offices could help gather useful and valid performance measures, Wye pointed out.

The guide also suggests that managers design "logic models" to help employees see where they fit into the service delivery process. A "logic model" is a flow chart that uses arrows and boxes to illustrate the various parts of a process. The illustration should help employees fully understand their duties, so they can't pass the buck when it comes to meeting goals, according to the report.

Most agency employees "care deeply about public service," Wye said, but many feel "beaten down" by political appointees and need reminders that their work is meaningful. Wye said he hopes the report will "prick the consciences" of civil servants, who are "well-motivated" for the most part.

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