Kent County increases transparency by linking performance with strategy
Less than an hour’s drive from Lake Michigan, Kent County is home to more than 675,000 residents. The County serves the second largest metro area in the state and boasts a thriving downtown area, parks, rivers, and an increasingly diverse community.
Kent County is also known for its rich history in performance management. So when it became clear that the County’s homegrown database was holding the team back from greater data transparency and closer strategic alignment, they turned to Envisio.
A history of performance excellence
The Kent County team has been building a comprehensive performance management program over the last 20 years. A longstanding goal of the County Administrator’s Office has been to promote transparency and public trust by openly sharing data that demonstrates progress towards long-term goals.
To support this, the County has a dedicated Strategy & Performance Management team, as well as a cross-functional Performance Measurement Review Team (PMRT). The PMRT comprises departmental directors from across the organization who are responsible for peer-to-peer coaching and sharing of performance management best practices.
MayBeth VanTill, Strategy and Performance Management Manager explains:
“We’re trying to elevate, not just performance management, but excellence at all different levels throughout the county.”
In short, Kent County has fostered an enviable culture of organizational performance excellence and public transparency over the years. But as the culture has grown, the tools used to measure, manage and report performance have not always kept pace.
When MaryBeth and her team started trying to align their existing performance measures with the County’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan, it became clear they needed a performance management tool that matched the sophistication and ambition of their performance program.
Lack of strategic alignment clouds transparency
The County’s Performance Management Program began in 1997 and has evolved to become an integral part of County operations. It began as a conscious effort to respond to Kent County’s mission at the time “to be an effective and efficient steward in delivering quality services for our diverse community.”
In 1997, it was primarily about counting things. There was not yet a standard for reporting, or even the collection of measures. At that time, the team was capturing performance metrics in Word and Excel documents. The program remained largely unchanged until March of 2008, when the Board of Commissioners approved an Administrative Policy on Performance Measurements and Results that required county departments to establish performance measures and report them annually to the Legislative and Human Resources Committee. The addition of this policy was a pivotal shift for the program. It is also something that continues to make Kent County’s performance management program unique.
County Administration made the decision to evolve from simply ‘counting things’ to aligning and engaging employees, improving how the process is described, and doing a better job assisting departments in telling their stories and supporting their journey towards performance excellence.
Fast forward a few years and this had turned into a homegrown database created by the IT team. It was a big improvement, but with the launch of the County’s first Strategic Plan in 2019, MaryBeth and her team recognized that they had outgrown their existing performance tools.
“We knew how to count things. We knew how to measure things,” explained MaryBeth.
“What we lacked was alignment with the strategic plan. We weren’t tracking enough project-level data and we couldn’t create a one-to-one relationship between performance measures and each element of the plan.”
The lack of alignment with strategic priorities was causing internal reporting challenges for the team, and limiting their ability to communicate results with residents.
MaryBeth continued: “We would end up running a report on the metrics from our database and then having to create another, separate cover sheet that we would manually fill out with significant accomplishments, project-based work and our futuristic goals. It was very ad-hoc and manual. We knew we needed a way to capture more information and to not only be able to report that data internally but present it to the public.”
The Kent County team had reached an impasse. They needed to either rewrite the current, homegrown program or consider a new product for performance management.
MaryBeth turned to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and National Association of Counties (NACo) for help. Her research led her to Envisio.
Envisio helps tie performance to the strategic plan
The Kent County team evaluated a number of performance management solutions before choosing Envisio.
‘Envisio really met the sweet spot for us,” said MaryBeth. “Seeing how other counties were using Envisio to communicate with residents on how they’re progressing against strategic priorities was a huge draw. Envisio had everything we needed but wasn’t going to cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Once the County’s new strategic plan was laid out clearly in Envisio, MaryBeth was able to conduct a gap analysis to see which priorities and goals didn’t have any performance measures associated with them. This gave the team a list of areas to target for building out new metrics.