It’s Quarter 3 performance reporting!
This time of year nobody works harder in a Local Authority than a Policy Officer.
Not gritter drivers, not the bin men driving through icy streets. Not nobody.
Once every three months I get to do the performance management report for the Local Authority I work in, and this quarter I’m taking you along for the ride. You’re welcome.
So, what is a quarterly performance management report for a Local Authority? And why should you give a damn?
Why you should give a damn
If you live in the UK, then the roads outside your house are kept hole-free and swept by the Local Authority (LA). Children without parents are looked after by Local Authorities. If you’re poor enough to have trouble paying the rent, they pay a contribution. So they do some important things. I’m not saying they do them well, but they do do them, nobody else does. This report, once a quarter, is about how well it is doing these things that help make your area a safe nice liveable place.
What they say corporate performance reports are
“To help us improve in the right areas and demonstrate progress, we use performance management. This helps us to:
- Focus on the council’s priorities.
- Set targets aimed at improving services and measures progress.
- Identify and tackle poor performance.
- Be accountable to our customers.
- Help ensure we provide value for money.
In addition we use information to compare with other councils and providers to see what represents the best practice in service provision.”
Examples of them
It’s this sort of thing. Here. These typically go to a meeting of a corporate management team, or political leadership. The people in charge.
What actually happens
Someone who thinks they know their service, sends info to a Policy Officer, me, who also thinks they know it. They pick bits that seem a bit performancey and put it into a report.
The performance report has to go through several directors, senior managers and sign off officers before it is finished.
The purpose of a performance report is…. to go through several directors, senior managers and sign off officers so that it is finished.
Once it’s done that, it’s done with.
Just like when you are going through customs at a border, you just want to get through.
As the purpose is to “get through” the sign off process, the purpose is to keep people happy, or happy enough that they won’t hold up the performance report.
As they all offer their opinions, it means it changes as it goes through.
- “Where’s the work we are doing on improving inter-agency work?
- “What about all our success in the pathfinder project!”
- “You can’t include that.”
And so it stumbles onwards.
Imagine you have to organise a meal out at a restaurant for about 20 people.
You have to please them all, but they are really picky, and seem to know exactly what everybody should be eating.
And they all disagree.
As with arranging a meal out, eventually the date and time arrives, and eventually there is a meal. Nobody is happy with it, but everyone is at least not unhappy enough for a meal not to take place. This is what a successful compromise looks like in corporate performance management.
What is wrong with it all
Broadly, all of it.
The purpose is to craft a document that appals people least, the method is choosing the best combination of words.
This is not what people think is happening whilst it is going through.
If they see something they think “needs challenging” a query is raised, one the person responsible has to address.
So they send back some words. People are happier, there was a challenge and a defend, and now we know.
Here what is being confused is re-wording and re-thinking. A newer, more pleasing set of words in a document has not actually changed reality.
So, why do people carry on with this then?
Senior managers and leaders gather in a room to be strategic, and people bring then things to look at. Whilst these managers remain in that room they will still need people to bring them things to look at. What else are they going to look at, each other?
It’s only when they have something better and more useful to spend their attention and time on that they will stop sitting waiting to be bring things to look at. Problem is that thing is not inside the room. It can’t be brought in. It’s outside the room, they have to leave the room to see it.
But until they do, people will keep on taking things in for them to look at, no matter how ludicrous.
Get out the meeting room! Nobody ever discovered data in a meeting room. There’s nothing in there for you or anyone. You’re in a minefield of ignorance!
Till that happens we are stuck with the wordsmithing of documents, crafting ignorance into something plausible.
The best knowledge isn’t plausible and pleasing, it is counter-intuitive and disturbing. Precisely the sort of thing that can never get through the opinion filters. You’d never get through the door with that, only familiar crap allowed inside.