Are the Town and County using KPIs?

A KPI is a Key Performance Indicator and some commenters on this blog have questioned whether they are being used by Town and County staff.  As management guru Peter Drucker said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” But it seems that, scientist Lord Kelvin beat him to the punch and called out a similar principle even earlier: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. So KPIs are clearly important. Certainly in the last year or two, there is evidence that both the County and Town Staff are using KPIs. Further, the County has put a “KPI Performance Dashboard” online with 22 KPIs that measure performance. Of course measuring is just the first step – but from the measurement, one can see if performance is improving.

Let’s look at recent references to KPIs:

Cobourg Strategic Plan

A new Strategic Plan for the Town was developed during 2023 and under the heading “Service Excellence”, one goal was this:

Develop and implement Key Performance Indicators and Continuous Improvement Plans for municipal programs and services to measure Customer Satisfaction, Community Impact and Efficiency (See report here – 7 Oct 2023 – and download the Strategic plan here)

This Strategic plan was developed with input from a consultant who strongly recommended that KPIs be used.  (Their recommendation was reported here – 29 June 2023)

Cobourg By-Law Department

This department calls their KPIs, Service Level Agreements (SLAs).  Their annual report was the subject of a blog post here (ByLaw enforcement Report – 10 Feb 2024).  The department’s annual report lists 29 SLAs with performance ranging from 54% (Parking related) to 90% (Boulevard by-law).  Read their report for more detail.

Planning Department

The 2023 annual report as covered in a blog report on major projects here has many “Key Observations”.

Also in this “Division” is the Economic Planning Department who recently issued their second annual report – access at Town web site here.  Sprinkled through the report are the KPI achievements but not the goals or the percentages accomplished.

Cobourg Police

The Police issue annual reports with performance measurements although they don’t call them KPIs. In July of 2023, they released their annual report for 2022. See the Cobourg blog report on that here. A link is included to download the Police Report.

Town of Cobourg Summary

It appears that at least some Directors are using KPIs – more of them may be using them but if that’s the case, they have not documented it. Also, some do a better job than others.

Northumberland County Dashboard

The county is more explicitly using KPIs across the organization and further, they are providing a publicly accessible report on their performance via the County KPI dashboard.

The dashboard is oriented around the County’s current Strategic Plan which has five “key pillars” or groups of KPIs but they also include CHIs (Community Health Indicators).  CHIs are “important demographic statistics, or data about the economic, social, and democratic health of our community”. Since the county does not and cannot control them, they are simply monitored. There are 22 KPIs and 11 CHIs.

Click each pillar to access the KPIs and/or CHIs for that group.  Then click a KPI/CHI to get a detailed description. Two parameters are given – a percentage of progress to the goal and an “On Track”/ “Off Track” indicator for KPIs and a “Monitor” indicator for CHIs. The detailed description describes the goal and performance in a timeframe – e.g. in 2023.

The dashboard is comprehensive and worth a look but is not updated daily – expect quarterly or annual updates.

Presumably an “Off Track” indication will be a flag to staff to act to get it back on track and in any case is a public indicator of performance.

So to answer the question “Are KPIs being used?” The answer for both the Town and the County is yes although not in every department and the benefits are not yet fully achieved.

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1 month ago

As a leadership professional I have spent much of my career in the private sector, however I have also worked directly within all three levels of government, and one thing that has often disappointed me is the lack of public sector leadership and accountability. We are certainly seeing this in Cobourg from the CAO who is demonstrably absent. The fact that there isn’t continuity between departments regarding “what do we call what we’re measuring” is a foundational failure and moreover an indication of something more problematic, a CAO who maybe either out of her depth OR not engaged in the work. Service Level Agreements? Key Observations? What is more important to organizational leadership than understanding daily/weekly/monthly how the organization is performing? This doesn’t require the Mayor or Council. You don’t need a strategic plan to tell you that measuring performance is critical to improving performance. CAO Vaughan has been in her role for more than 4-years and this hasn’t been addressed – who is measuring her performance? What are her KPI’s?

Last edited 1 month ago by Rob
Reply to  Rob
1 month ago

Recalling the MAX747, dereliction of thought, hubris, laziness, and even corruption were never caught at Boeing by the FAA because Boeing was allowed to police itself.
I hear KPI and think “really?”. Efficiency and intelligence so often go unappreciated while intransigence, incompetence, and empire building are obvious to all without a Six Sigma formal KPI.

Give me a break
1 month ago

Can they even spell it …..

1 month ago

Choosing what the KPIs are or not, plus how to measure them is, is a good way to launder the status quo to whatever result is desired for the glowing report.

1 month ago

They call them KPIs but I wonder if they really are. Perhaps casual department objectives would be a better term. There is no evidence that these KPIs have received peer or CAO approval. As JD notes, it doesn’t appear that there are documented success metrics, benchmarks and milestones. I also doubt that they are used for performance assessment, either departmental, managerial, or individual.

There are also too many KPIs to be effective: imagine 22 KPI’s to measure, track and evaluate.
5 to 7 is about all an individual can focus on.

All in all, not optimum, but perhaps a brave start.

Reply to  Bryan
1 month ago

Maybe we should hire a consultant to deal with these KPIs ? Just a thought?

1 month ago

It’s no wonder things take so long to get done, with all the hoops people need to jump through to accomplish anything here in Town. If someone doesn’t get their act together, the next Albatros will be 310. Bureaucracy overload. As a layperson, I can’t keep up with all the abbreviations used by the Town.