The Scoreboards That Government’s Front-Line Workers Need

To improve processes, it's crucial for everyone to be able to see how they're doing in real time.
April 19, 2017
By John M. Bernard  |  Contributor
Senior fellow, Governing Institute

Imagine watching a basketball game or playing a round of golf and having to wait a month to learn the score. To say the least, it wouldn't be much fun. The power of playing with a scoreboard or a scorecard is its real-time feedback and its motivational power.

As the movement toward managing for results continues to expand across government, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that getting performance measures front and center is an essential tool for engaging employees to improve their work processes. If people can't see how they are doing in real time -- how well their processes are working -- how can they make adjustments to improve the end result? If they can't manage their work, all they can do is wait for the inevitable surprise to pop up. And we all know how welcome surprises are in the world of government.

The foundation of public-employee engagement is a sense of connection to the organization's mission and citizen outcomes. Genuine engagement occurs when employees have an ongoing "line-of-sight" connection between what they do every day and what the organization is working to accomplish.

Take, for example, the always challenging problem of reducing the time it takes for citizens and businesses to get government permits. A specific improvement goal, say 30 percent, makes it necessary for everyone involved in issuing permits to measure the cycle from start to finish.

In the departments of every governmental entity that issues permits there is likely a software program or database already in existence that tracks how long the process currently takes. But too often that important data is rolled up into some obscure management report that periodically shows up on someone's desk. If it's in a report that goes to someone, then someone must be managing it, right? Not necessarily so. In fact, unlikely.

Early in my career I managed a manufacturing plant, and once a week someone brought me a six-inch set of computer printouts for my reading enjoyment. I was hard pressed to find anyone else who looked at those reports. As it turned out, some of the information in those big reports was actually quite useful. To use data to manage, I focused on getting visible measures up in every department on whiteboards that were updated at least daily. Until we put the information on a whiteboard, the people who actually managed the work, the people on the front line, never saw it.

To accelerate results-driven government, we need to get the data in front of the people who do the work. Those front-line workers should be entering their own performance information as a part of a healthy accountability process -- the first step in engaging employees in improving the work they do. And in addition to seeing the results, employees need the authority and skills to improve their processes.

For the many local and state governments implementing Lean or similar process-improvement systems, visual management is one of the core management practices. "Huddle boards" -- scoreboards posted in the workplace -- are a popular and growing practice intended to bring the data out of computer-generated reports and into view by the work team to inform and inspire action.

Governments are just beginning to leverage cloud-based applications and other technology to manage performance data and make it visible on everyone's desktop in real time, an even better solution than huddle boards. More and more, agency leaders, managers and front-line employees are embracing the power of such tools. Not only do they enable work teams to see how they are doing against their targets, but they make it possible to quickly identify workload issues and bottlenecks, see how effective process changes are, understand what customers are experiencing, and prioritize their process improvement efforts.

With the data visible, a team can immediately make adjustments to improve its performance. Like in a game of basketball or a round of golf, data that is visible in real time -- rather than at the end of the month -- gives everyone a chance to improve.