Several years ago, a senior federal agency client engaged my company to improve the performance of the organization. As he saw it, they were not structured to operate efficiently; they didn’t have enough technical staff and were geographically organized in a way that was difficult to manage, requiring what appeared to be an excessive number of administrative positions. Through restructuring the organization, he believed that the program could be more efficient with its time and budget.
In my introductory blog post last week, I explained that this 11-week blog series will cover the topic of operational effectiveness in the public sector. It is a subject that is gaining more and more attention in the federal government and one that, if done well, can lead to transformational improvements in how agencies execute their day to day activities. The case example highlighted above is just such an example. For this organization, there was clearly an opportunity to be more efficient on several fronts. But the focus of this post is not the question of “how” an organization operates; instead, I want to emphasize the importance of considering “what” a program is trying to achieve through their efforts in the first place.
Defining Desired Outcomes: The First Step Towards Effectiveness
To assess how effective you are at something, you must first define the desired outcome. To be more effective means that the outcome is improved; improved warfighter readiness, better cleanup of Superfund sites, greater progress on grant-based research, increased care for veterans, etc.
Many improvement efforts that we’ve seen have neglected to start with a clear understanding of the desired outcomes and instead focus on more easily observable process metrics. While focusing on efficiency is not a bad thing in and of itself, I would argue that a greater emphasis on understanding outcomes and effectiveness is where the transformational opportunity exists.
Returning to the case example above, the organization’s leadership believed their core challenge was insufficient technical resources distributed inefficiently across geographical regions. While workload analysis confirmed a resource deficit, what was not considered was whether they were even performing the right portfolio of activities.
Through a quick strategic planning exercise that linked mission objectives, desired outcomes, and supporting activities, it became clear that alignment between these elements had become muddled over the years. Over 1/4 of the tasks being performed in the field were not directly linked to a current organizational priority, and several mission objectives were not being fully addressed by the current activity list.
After reevaluating and reprioritizing based on objectives and outcomes, there was, in fact, enough workforce capacity to handle all essential activities. Reorganizing and refocusing provided leadership with the fresh perspective needed to identify inefficiencies and opportunities, leading to not only greater efficiency, but significant improvement in mission effectiveness.
In my upcoming blogs, we’ll continue to explore how an outcome-focused approach to operational effectiveness can provide measurable, lasting results for Federal agencies. Feel free to share any examples of times you’ve seen a focus on outcomes (or lack thereof) impact the success of an operational effectiveness initiative.