Performance Measurement and Management

The "New Normal"

The recent recession has radically changed how governments must do business to survive.

When we talk, it can not be in government "doublespeak" or in generalities; we need to have clear goals and objectives. We need to define what we are doing in objective, measurable ways. Essentially, we must perform on par with the best private sector businesses, and seek new ways to provide services with existing resources. That is the key to our survival and to successful performance-based management.

Sources of funding and citizen expectations are much different than they were even two years ago. The time of "invisible" public services based on stable, multi-year funding is gone; instead a dynamic marketplace has emerged, where our community's willingness to pay for services, as well as their their service expectations are very different from what they've been in past. We must continuously pursue the most cost effective way to provide acceptable services and then show the community exactly how we are spending their money. As costs escalate beyond available revenue, we must communicate the options to our community and learn to provide fewer services at lower service levels. We must be willing to change - now!  

This change is neither simple to embrace nor quick to implement. Vancouver has been working for nearly a decade on making these changes, accelerating our efforts in the last two years. While the act of quantifying and communicating our performance is often uncomfortable to City employees, we recognize that it is essential.

As a result of our efforts, Vancouver is viewed by most benchmarking organizations as an exceptionally lean, but effective, government organization. We are not where we want to be in all areas of the city yet, but we are making consistent progress.

Why use performance-based management?

Even the best performance measurement program will only tell us what needs to be done and suggest how to do it. Raw numbers should not drive the decision process, but objective data can inform it. A well integrated performance management program gives us information that is meaningful and reliable, not just "data" and charts. With meaningful information, we can make more sound decisions based on all three sources of knowledge: objective data, observation and political realities.

The best leaders make decisions based on a consistent process that is informed by data - then they motivate and steer their organizations to do what must be done, and in turn are exceptionally successful in the long term.

How do we use performance data?

What is often called "Continuous Quality Improvement" or the “Deming Cycle”  is central to many successful organizations.  It is simply a continuous process  “Plan – Do – Check – Act”. We avoid using fancy labels and performance jargon as much as possible to describe the process. We don’t give it a title - it is simply how we do business.

It is known by many names, but no matter what you call it a system of continuous improvement is essential - especially as funding becomes more scarce and the cost to provide services increase. 

Click on each term below to see how each aspect is represented in our performance program.

PLAN: Review or revise our business process or services to improve results

DO: Implement our plan and measure its effectiveness (performance)

CHECK: Assess the measurements and report the results to the right decision makers

ACT (Analyze): Decide on changes needed to improve the processes or services – then gather the resources to do it.

How we PLAN:

  • City Strategic Plan (citywide). Developed by community and staff members, the strategic plan outlines the path and commitments we are expected to follow as we move Vancouver toward its future - while improving our already excellent community livability.
  • Performance Vision (citywide). This simple document provides a clear direction of how we will move forward with performance management at multiple levels in Vancouver. We recognize culture change take time, but believe progress must be made at all organizational levels for lasting change to take place.
  • City Manager's Annual Goals (citywide). The city manager releases three to four annual goals each fall to concentrate effort on focus areas of near-term importance. Managers are expected to plan and redirect to support these areas within existing resources. Current year goals are below.
  • Business Planning (department level). This is a rigorous process that culminates with the manager providing a presentation of the business plan to Council in a public workshop. The process is intended to focus management on what services should be provided, how they are provided, what it costs to provide them, and how to provide service more competitively.

How we DO:

  • Community Performance Reporting (citywide). We measure our progress toward the commitments made to our citizens in the Strategic Plan. Thes measures were developed through the Strategic Planning process in 2007 and 2008 and are available on line (here Strategic Initiatives and measures link). We also continuously strive to link our budget closer to the strategic plan and make key decisions informed by performance.
  • Annual Performance "Snapshots" (department level). These snapshots are one of our most visible tools. These two-page documents are annual summaries of performance at the department level. A performance snapshot includes a summary of what the department did the previous year, their current performance measures, and what they plan to do in the near future. Between four and six snapshots are chosen by Council each year to be discussed in dedicated 45 minute televised workshops, where they are presented by the department director. Streaming video presentations of their workshop sessions to Council are available from our Media Services Department on request.
  • Regular employee performance appraisals (individual level). Performance appraisals are focused on a mix of subjective observations and objective performance toward defined goals. Our desired outcome is a single web-based standard system that requires performance goals, face-to-face discussions, and objective quantification of performance. We have achieved the goal with managers and are making steady progress toward this goal with the rest of the city employees.

> Manager Appraisals: Our web-based annual appraisal system has been in place since 2006, and provides a regular system of goal setting and employee feedback for the management group.

> Non-manager Appraisals:  In 2007 we completed annual performance appraisals for all eligible employees. Currently a paper-based system of a variety of forms and formats, we will transition them to a more standardized electronic system over the next few years. Non-represented employees will be the highest priority, but represented employees will be transitioned as appropriate.

How we CHECK:

  • Community Survey (citywide). The Community Survey is a statistically valid tool we use every two years to assess how residents rate our services and overall performance. We rotate questions regularly and change the focus to get the best value; in 2008 we linked questions to GIS data to identify specific geographic focus areas for services.
  • Internal Support Services Survey (department level). We conduct an internal Support Services Survey every other year to determine how well our internal services are meting the need of city departments.
  • Performance Management (citywide). We have been recognized by external organizations for our work in Performance Management. Most notably the International City/County Management Association's (ICMA) Certificate of Distinction was awarded to Vancouver and 30 other cities nationwide this year for their exceptional work in performance management.
  • Performance and Process Audits (department level). Internal audits of key functions and processes are part of our internal focus on efficiency. They are done on an ad-hoc basis as the need or opportunity arises.

How we ACT (or analyze):

  • The Performance Analyst (citywide). This staff position provides Council - and the community - an annual review of progress toward our stated performance goals. Recommended changes to the performance program are made and implemented if approved.
  • Business Planning (department level). Business planning for departments culminates with presentation of their business plan to Council in a public workshop. The process is intended to focus management on what services should be provided, how they are provided, and how to provide service more competitively. Council is provided an overview of the plan and the staff's recommendations, which sometimes include suggested changes to policy, existing regulations or common practices.