Performance Management Tips From Three Cities

June 21, 2018 by Melissa Crowe

Performance Management Tips From Three Cities

Photo: Michael Brown

What do Austin, Henderson, and Little Rock have in common? All three cities have intrepid, intelligent women heading up their performance management programs. At Socrata Connect, Robin Rosenberg, a Socrata Product Manager, led up a panel discussion focused on the challenges — and opportunities — of instituting performance management programs with Kimberly Olivares, Chief Performance Officer for the city of Austin; Melissa Bridges, Performance and Innovation Coordinator for Little Rock; and Laura Shearin, Henderson's Business Administration Manager.

As Rosenberg pointed out, it's perhaps unsurprising that a theme uniting the conversation was the need to succeed within the constraints of scarce resources. Bridges, for instance, describes herself as a team of one. Olivares' team of five (including herself) seems massive in comparison — but serves 14,000 people. "Even with just organic growth and no advertising, demand [for support] quickly outpaced supply," says Olivares.

Still, Olivares, Bridges, and Shearin have been able to accomplish a lot. Here are some of the strategies they noted during their conversation.

Find Catalysts

Seek out the natural leaders, recommends Shearin, focusing more on personality and enthusiasm than job title. "Finding people who can carry the water for what you want to do is key. If you don't, you're out there on your own," Shearin says.

People who immediately recognize the benefits of performance management and feel excited for its impact can help spread the word and lead up programs within their departments. Both Shearin and Bridges agree that starting with departmental leaders is not necessarily the best path to take. "There are a lot of departmental directors who aren't necessarily working with the information day-to-day, so they don't always see the value in putting it out," says Bridges. Rather than starting with the leadership to implement performance management, Bridges advocates for forming cross-departmental working groups, which have pent-up need and idea generation that leads the program forward faster.

"I do think bottom up is where it's at," says Shearin, pointing out that director-level employees are busy and can struggle to internalize the information and filter it throughout their organization.

Decentralize Performance Management

Instead of keeping the performance management's office at the center of all performance efforts, aim to decentralize.

In Henderson, each department has a person trained on how to enter data into the system, use it in meetings with peers and subordinates, as well as how to report it to managers. "The key in our experience is the decentralization and the training that goes with it," says Shearin. With even more training, she'd be able to expand the number of people knowledgeable about using data for performance management, which would increase the organization's capacity.

Bridges has used both Socrata's on-site education opportunities and access to online training to increase staff's data know-how. "We're trying to educate more of our staff so they can be that multiplier effect and educate even more people," says Bridges.  

And, in Austin, departmental leaders are setting up their own mini offices of performance management within their department. "I'm thrilled because the more people we can have digging into the data, the better. My team doesn't have the capacity to dig into the data with that kind of detail," says Olivares.

Tie Performance to Budget

Shearin recommends making a connection between how budgeting and performance management, and making it clear that data is a powerful tool to tell stories and explore strategies.

"People are starting to catch on and see that this is a vehicle to drive their requests," says Shearin. In Henderson, the city council wants to explore different options for park maintenance. With baseline data in place, the Parks Manager sees the possibility for exploring different staffing and park maintenance strategies and choosing the most effective option with data to back the decision.

Create Opportunities to Share Stories & Problems

Bridges notes that she often focuses on the "coordinator" part of her title over the more technical stuff. She's eager to build connections between people in different departments who are asking similar questions.

During one of Little Rock's cross-departmental internal performance meetings, someone who works on the golf courses noted that they manually collected weather data, since it helps them justify spikes and valleys in the golf courses' revenue (visits decrease during extreme heat and on rainy days). The zoo was engaged in a similar project to collect weather data to explain the number of visitors. Weather, it turns out, affects all sorts of city functions: from overgrown grass (an issue for public works) to crime. After the meeting, someone from the Parks Department created an API to collect this weather-related data for many Little Rock departments to use.

Watch the Full Discussion

For more strategy – and commiseration on challenges —>watch the full discussion on Austin, Henderson, and Little Rock's performance management journey.

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