The Big Question for Performance Management: Why Do Managers Use Performance Information?
Journal of public administration research and theory
This article proposes that understanding public employee use of performance information is perhaps the most pressing challenge for scholarship on performance management. Governments have devoted extraordinary effort in creating performance data, wagering that it will be used to improve governance, but there is much we do not know about the factors associated with the use of that information. This article examines the antecedents of selfreported performance information use from a survey of local
... government managers. The results show that public service motivation, leadership role, information availability, organizational culture, and administrative flexibility all affect performance information use. Behn has argued that one of three "big questions" for public management research centers on how to measure performance in a way that fosters achievement, and specifically asked, "how can public managers use measures of the achievements of public agencies to produce even greater achievements?" (Behn 1995, 321). We propose a slightly different question, which we believe is another big question for public management, and perhaps the biggest question for performance management: why do managers use performance information? Whether public officials are actually using performance data to manage is the best indicator of whether performance management is worth the effort (Hatry 1999). Without knowledge of why such use occurs, it becomes difficult to establish the conditions for performance management success. Van Dooren (2008, 22) argues that, "if we want to study the successes and failures of performance movements, we have to study the use of performance information." Determining the actual impact of reforms is exceptionally difficult (Pollitt 2000) , but performance information use offers a more tractable measure of success. More broadly, the use of performance information suggests the type of purposeful and goal-oriented behavior that elected officials and members of the public say they want from bureaucrats. Performance information use is important not just to students of administrative reform but can also inform scholarship on public policy, network theory, principal agent theory, and other areas of cross-disciplinary interest. Although governments have devoted a great deal of energy and resources into creating performance information systems, they have largely neglected the question of how to foster information use. This may be beginning to change at the federal level, with President Obama's Chief Performance Officer stating that, "the ultimate test of our performance management efforts is whether or not the information is used" (Zients 2009). Although there is some empirical research on this question, there is much we do not understand. A group of younger scholars at the most recent Minnowbrook conference proposed that the performance information use remains one of the most important yet understudied issues in performance management (Moynihan et al. forthcoming), whereas Van de Walle and Van Dooren (2008, 2) argued, "while the production of performance information has received considerable attention in the public sector performance measurement and management literature, actual use of this information has traditionally not been very high on the research agenda." This article builds upon the existing empirical literature by developing and testing a model of performance information use on a survey of local government officials. We treat performance information use as a form of organizational behavior that is influenced by individual, job, organizational, and environmental factors. A MODEL OF PERFORMANCE INFORMATION USE Previous Research There are a number of empirical pieces on performance information use in the public sector, and the majority of such research is recent. Heinrich (1999) noted that most empirical evidence came from the private sector. Her study of performance standards in job training found that data were used but much depended upon the design of the overall performance system and that there was little to guide designers beyond neoclassical economic arguments for financial incentives. Since then, more research has emerged to offer alternatives to neoclassical models, usually relying on self-reported survey data. It appears fair to assert that this previous work has not resulted in a common or overarching theory of performance information