The Power of Performance Management: Transforming Learning to Better Results

Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence

Performance management and continuous improvement are critical activities for the federal government in optimizing program and service delivery, driving budget decisions, and ultimately, building an organizational culture focused on improving results. The Performance Management/Continuous Improvement Criteria in Results for America’s Invest in What Works Federal Standards of Excellence (Federal Standard of Excellence) outlines how federal agencies can:

4.1 Create strategic plans that have aligned outcome goals and metrics;

4.2 Use outcome data to improve a program’s return on investment; and

4.2 Implement robust data-driven learning cycles processes.

With these activities in place, an agency can rapidly and regularly track the quality of their programs to adjust and improve performance to deliver better results more effectively and efficiently.

A leading example of an agency that employs robust performance management and continuous improvement is the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) which has a coordinated departmental approach to performance management. These efforts have earned DOL a top score in the 2020 Federal Standard of Excellence’s performance management criteria. The agency’s centralized performance hub, the Performance Management Center, is tasked with overseeing the enterprise performance management and strategic planning processes, as well as providing consulting services in order to improve program delivery. Because the Center is centralized and leads performance across the department, it is able to support strategic reviews that link performance information and annual operating plans, with the department’s budget. Further, the Center’s processes engage senior leaders across the department, including the Deputy Secretary on a quarterly basis; this allows performance information to inform program implementation and improvement by identifying priorities for analysis needed to refine performance measures, evaluation, and research.

Likewise, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services implements an agencywide approach to performance management and describes its three primary reasons for tracking performance data:

  1. monitor the administration’s progress towards achieving ACL’s departmental and agency strategic goals, objectives, and priorities;
  2. support ACL’s budget justifications; and
  3. monitor program performance and support improvement.

ACL published its performance strategy in 2018, which outlines the agency’s performance improvement processes, goals, and engagement protocols with leaders and individual offices. This strategy includes six performance management goals that outline several important priorities including developing a repository of reliable performance data, building partnerships internally and externally to advance agency performance management, and establishing a standardized agency approach to performance management and continuous improvement.

The performance strategy also discusses tools to implement an agency-wide approach to performance management consisting of convening meetings between political leadership, staff, and external stakeholders; having a performance liaison in every agency office to identify areas of improvement in program implementation, and coordinating performance management with program evaluations. Additionally, ACL’s performance strategy includes a glossary of performance terms to ensure that the agency communicates performance concepts in shared, common terms. Other agencies may find this useful in creating or codifying their performance management strategies.

While performance management serves as largely operational activities, its impact has a transformative programmatic effect. It can allow staff and leadership to make operational improvements to program and service delivery in a nearly concurrent process. Overtime, performance management can help boost research, learning, and even evaluations. Ultimately, when connected to budget processes, it can help drive and inform performance-based funding decisions.

As captured in the Federal Standard of Excellence, agencies and departments have robust, clear, and consistent performance management processes. Beyond the processes, an essential component to driving continuous learning is an organizational culture willing to learn, adapt, and improve over time, all in the name of achieving better results for communities and residents. To encourage this across the federal government, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and the Government Performance Results Act intend to create an organizational culture of learning and continuous improvement. Robust and engaged agency leadership invested in data, evidence, and results can play a tremendous role in setting the stage to allow these cultures to flourish.

Read Results for America’s 2020 Invest in What Works Federal Standard of Excellence here. And read more about the Performance Management Criteria here.



Working with decision-makers at all levels of government to harness the power of evidence and data to solve the world’s greatest challenges.

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Results for America

Working with decision-makers at all levels of government to harness the power of evidence and data to solve the world’s greatest challenges.