A South American government cut hospital waiting lists by 80 percent. An Asian country reduced street crime by 35 percent in a single year. Another Asian country increased tourism by 70 percent.
These are all real-life examples of governments going beyond what might be called Delivery 1.0 (delivering outcomes) to Delivery 2.0 (delivering better, faster, cheaper outcomes, and being seen to do so). In each case, governments made progress from already well-designed and well-executed delivery programs.
Here are six lessons from our experience of these and other delivery programs.
Define your priorities
The key is to focus on the value actually delivered to the population. The best approach is to choose three to six priorities (no more) and then stick to them for two or three years. Avoid the temptation to add more and more goals; that only divides attention and increases the chance of failure. Choosing a small number of goals also goes a long way toward securing the support of senior civil servants, who often complain, with good reason, about having a never-ending list of priorities.
Next, establish numerical metrics for each priority. These must measure outcomes, not inputs. For example, don’t target higher technology spending or more police officers, but a specific decrease in crime or improvement in education.
These targets should be published, as should progress against them, both in absolute and relative terms (in the form of rankings). The UK government has done this, in the form of public-service agreements.
How ambitious should such targets be? They must be ambitious enough to represent real improvement and to force changes, yet modest enough to be achievable and build momentum. One approach is to create a portfolio of goals, at varying levels of aspiration.
Create ‘delivery labs’
Many outcomes require a number of government agencies to work together toward a common goal. This is notoriously difficult to pull off in a world of silos, disparate agendas, and competition for funding. Governments typically respond by setting up committees or task forces that tend to represent their own interests. Little progress is made in meetings, and even less between them. What can be done?
One proven approach is the “delivery lab,” which brings together 20 or 30 people from all appropriate departments to develop solutions in a full-time, six- to eight-week process. The lab’s task is to define targets, set priorities, develop delivery plans, get stakeholder approval, and figure out funding. It’s important that this be a full-time commitment: the magic of the lab is its intensity. Only then can the participants focus on the problem and work out the answers. Labs also create a link between planning and implementation, because the people involved return to their organizations and take responsibility for bringing the plans to life.
Four elements characterize successful delivery labs—a clear mandate from the top; a successful leader who has great access; good personnel, including members of the private sector, where appropriate; and a connection between policy makers and end users (for example, between ministers of education and classroom teachers).
Increase the pressure to perform
It’s a cliché, but it’s true: what gets measured gets managed. Performance improves when it is managed. Internal performance management should begin by assigning accountability for outcomes to individuals. Once accountability is established, performance dialogues—regular conversations about each goal—are essential. One prime minister reviews the progress of six priorities every week; every six months, he holds a face-to-face performance dialogue with each minister.
These conversations must be based on standardized, clear management data (ideally available online) that can be reviewed and managed in real time. And the dialogues must be reinforced by rigorous evaluation and consequences (good and bad). Many governments are constrained in this regard; they may not be able to reward great performances with bonuses or condemn bad ones by firing the perpetrators. But they can publicly acknowledge outstanding people, promote highfliers faster, and move laggards to lower-profile roles.
Establish small, high-powered delivery units
Many governments are setting up delivery units to work through the relevant public-sector agencies. Some delivery units struggle. Others are very successful. Three things make the difference:
- A clear, unwavering mandate from the top echelon of government. This mandate should specify the unit’s role and remit and confirm that it is focused on the government’s top priorities.
- A successful, dedicated leader with top-level access. Effective delivery units are generally run by people who have a track record of delivering big results fast. Whether they are from the public or private sector, they need to be familiar with how government works and have peer relationships with ministers and heads of departments.
- A few good people. Members can be from either the public or private sectors; the important thing is that they are driven, effective problem solvers able to collaborate with the civil service.
Ensure visible sponsorship from the top
The head of government should play an active, visible role in setting aspirations, making decisions, and removing obstacles to success. That means setting aside a sizable amount of time—at least eight hours a month—to Delivery 2.0 initiatives.
Top-level sponsorship signals the importance of the program to the rest of the government. Ministers and civil-service leaders take notice. And this sponsorship should be sustained so that when the initial excitement of the launch fades, the work continues. One prime minister chaired a two-hour performance review of priority areas, involving all senior officials, every two weeks. This had an enormous effect on the success of the transformation program.
From the outset, a government must make its priorities clear to all stakeholders. It should begin with, and persist in, reinforcing a single narrative that includes the case for change and the projected benefits. This is only the beginning. Stakeholders need to be part of the action from beginning to end.
Soliciting early input can help them get involved and stay involved. One Southeast Asian government invited the media, the opposition, and the public to a series of “open days,” in which the proposed targets were discussed. Twenty thousand people attended.
It’s important to acknowledge stakeholders—for example, by recognizing effective players or by hosting events with groups such as police officers or teachers to thank them for their work. Involving the public can also be effective. Initiatives such as volunteer policing can engage the public in the fight against crime.
Even in the best of times, making government work effectively is difficult. Objectives are not always clear, and they change with new leadership; different departments operate like silos; and it can be difficult to mobilize an entrenched civil service that may be focused more on policy than outcomes. But difficult is not the same thing as impossible. We have seen governments around the world use Delivery 2.0 to meet their challenges—even in times of crisis.