Mission Control: Imagine - an agency getting a Baldrige

Bob Deller

What if the performance plan for every federal manager contained a requirement that an organization or program be terminated when its mission was accomplished? Suppose further that managers' compensation was linked to that requirement.

That's unlikely to happen, but knowing the outer reaches of where self-assessment can take you can help produce accurate assessments even if you don't go there. It shows a willingness to be absolutely objective. And it might help you could win a prize.

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program is likely to be expanded this year to include nonprofit organizations'possibly even government agencies. If federal managers were able to apply for a Baldrige award (www.quality.nist.gov), they would have to develop self-assessments of internal performance. It would be interesting to observe which direction agency managers take in developing performance metrics and standards for self-assessment.

I've heard it said more than once that performance measurement should begin with the organization's mission. Has anyone tried to work with the mission statement of an organization in order to identify performance metrics? Undoubtedly, yes. But has anyone been successful at it?

The current personnel crisis in federal agencies and the administration's various efforts at civil service reform have pushed the matter of how to judge performance to the front burner.

But the issue is nothing new. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 included the objective to link employee performance with agency work statements. The Merit System Protection Board the act established provided oversight for the development and implementation of a system to extend that link to compensation.

Difficulty in tying performance evaluation to mission stems partly from the fact that beyond formal mission statements such as, 'Protect the health of the nation,' lie parallel but generally unstated missions such as, 'How do I keep the organization alive?' or 'How do I keep my job?' These form a mission triangle that managers may as well acknowledge.

Behind these stated and unstated missions you'll find two agendas. First, there is a political agenda that defines the stated mission. It influences the behavior of an organization because organizations try to perpetuate the power base that appoints their leaders. The political agenda leads to day-to-day implementation governed by the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations. But it ultimately reflects the interests of constituents such as taxpayers or regulated industries.

Then there is the agenda of career civil servants, who dedicate their professional lives to carrying out the work defined for them in agency- and mission-independent position descriptions. Their efforts form a large part of the government's knowledge base that perpetuates the organizations.

As to whether an organization should plan its own extinction'well, that's a pretty unrealistic expectation for government. I doubt that anyone would see in a Baldrige entry an assessment of how well an organization dismantles its programs. Still, government managers would benefit from understanding how self-assessment can support improved mission performance.

Bob Deller analyzes the federal IT market. He can be reached at bdeller@markess.com.

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