Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lies, damned lies and performance management

Last week’s Public Finance magazine carried an interesting article about performance management – yes, really. It included a disturbing statistic: over 70% of recipients in a recent survey admitted to fabricating performance data. (How many of the others didn’t like to admit it?)

We know about perverse incentives, erroneous errors and even issues with performance data to regulators and clients, but this is organisations telling themselves lies.

(Before I go on, I should stress that I am a sceptic when it comes to “targets” as reform and performance information as a panacea. But performance information is integral to good governance.)

What can be done? A mature attitude to performance information would be a start – seeing it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself; measuring what matters rather than what is easily measurable.

There is also value in assurance. Boards and managers should ensure that key information systems are reliable. How can they do their job if they are driving with a faulty dashboard?

Larger housing associations have to get certain operational performance information systems verified periodically. Other organisations could get internal auditors to check out performance information systems. Yet in most of the public sector and third sector performance information is just accepted at face value.

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