Managing Performance: A Series

"Managing Performance" by Geert Bouckaert & John Halligan

Remember the YouTube phenomena, “The Evolution of Dance?”  I have been reading a book, “Managing Performance: International Comparisons” by two highly-regarded foreign academics – Geert Bouckaert (a Belgian) and John Halligan (an Australian).   Their book could well have been named:  “The Evolution of Performance!” 

Twenty years into a global performance management movement, they describe the evolution of performance management in government and provide detailed case studies for a half-dozen countries:  Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.

They lay out a set of four “ideal types” of performance systems as a framework for comparison, and then use these types to comparatively assess the approaches used by a variety of countries, even going beyond the case studies.  While a bit dense for practitioners (e.g., references to “isomorphic mimetic behaviour”), they offer useful insights into ways to frame performance strategies at different levels – for entire countries, individual agencies, or program-level efforts.

Their models roughly describe a continuum that is linked to the evolution and maturity of a country’s or an organization’s performance measures.  This evolution also depends on the underlying philosophy of that country or organization’s approach to management – which oftentimes change over time as well.  For example, do leaders see performance monitoring primarily as a tool to enforce accountability or do they use it primarily to improve performance?

The authors note that different organizations will start at different places in developing their performance management approaches and that there is no one, right spot to begin.  Rather, the approach depends on an organization’s needs and culture.  And, the implementation strategy used may vary depending on the level at which the measurement approach is applied:  governmentwide, at an agency level, or at the program level.

The Models.  The four “idealistic” models developed by Bouckaert and Halligan are:

Each is described further in subsequent blog entries in this multi-part series. . . .

Performance Relationships. In addition to the models, the authors describe a series of six “performance relationships,” each of which need to be addressed in the implementation of any of the four models: There are six potential performance relationships:

  • Performance budgets and audits between executive and legislative branches.
  • General charters between government leaders and citizens
  • Contracts between program executives and the central administration (e.g., in the U.S., this could be executive departments or the Administration)
  • Specific charters between the central administration and citizens (e.g., service level agreements or service quality surveys)
  • Accountability agreements between the central administration and the legislature.
  • Defining the interaction between citizens and the legislature (e.g., via the policy process or an ombudsman)

Which model do you think your agency is using to build its performance approach?  Has your agency organization explicitly considered each of the sets of performance relationships in developing its strategy?


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