Last year, I had a vision. I’d just wrapped up a meeting with one of our government clients, an innovative leader in community development. As I gazed out over the city from the conference room of the skyscraper, I began to think to myself.

“One day government leaders and managers will be able to look out over their city, with their iPad in hand and predict in real-time how many people will get jobs. How many people will be moved from welfare to self-sustaining employment, and how many people will start business and become self-employed.”

I ask myself every day if this vision is possible, and I believe the answer is an affirmative YES!

The question has never been about WHAT or WHY, but always HOW?  I believe this vision of connected and predictable economic and workforce development can become a reality, but it requires a new way of thinking and doing, one that is much more focused on real-time performance outcomes.

In 2009, when we were managing a welfare-to-work contract for the County of Los Angeles, I used to tell my staff that getting people off welfare and into jobs takes constant, consistent activity. Bottom line. And the best way to manage activity is through KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

Our VP and I were so close to the activity numbers that we’d get daily activity email alerts on our phones, while driving in rush-hour traffic. (You have a lot of extra time waiting in traffic on the 110 freeway.) We knew up to the minute how and what the job developers and case managers were doing — how many new participants we had, how many new employers, job orders and hires.

This “numbers, numbers, numbers” mindset comes from my previous career in the staffing business, where our managers required us to meet very specific activity goals, and if we didn’t meet our goals, we worked late.

So What Are KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)

Key performance indicators are a set of activity or outcome metrics which you measure at regular intervals: daily, weekly, monthly, etc. They are also known as scorecards. It’s important to differentiate general performance indicators such as “entered employment” and “employers served”. I have always believed these metrics are too ambiguous and did not give tremendous insight into program performance. KPIs typically reflect the key drivers of your agency, enabling staff, management and funders to know how a program is doing.

What to track

Here are some examples of KPIs you may want to track, if you are in workforce development:

Case Management:

  • # of new participants this week
  • # of new participants by skills category

Business Services:

  • # of new job orders (not job postings pulled of the internet)
  • # of new employers with job orders
  • # of referrals
  • # of interviews
  • # of new hires

These are just an example of some of the KPIs you want to be tracking, although you can track much more if you want to get even more granular with your operations.

Why you need KPIs

As the title of this blog clearly lays out, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. I believe we can reduce the number of people on welfare by 50% if we measure progress on metrics like referrals and interviews on a weekly basis. I believe we can increase the number of successful entrepreneurial startups if we track how many are being referred to economic development on a weekly basis.

KPIs are essential if you want to consistently increase and exceed performance outcomes. Many of our Workforce Development clients and partners ask us for ways they can get more employers to hire their participants, and when I dig deeper I often find they are not tracking their KPIs. It surprised me how many agencies received funding grants to train workers, but would have placement outcome rates below 50% or none at all. The main culprit was their lack of tracking real-time performance date.

Predicting and Forecasting

Another key benefit of tracking KPIs is that as you gather more historical data you can begin to forecast “predict” outcomes. For example, the number of new job orders coming in the top of the funnel allows you to forecast, based on placement ratios, how many new placements you can make this quarter. Imagine how powerful this information would be if you were going after additional grants. You would be able to tell funders how many new placements you expect to make in the future, which would give you an advantage over other agencies in securing funding.

Changing Staff Behavior

By implementing weekly KPIs, staff will begin to focus on what maters most, which in Workforce Development typically means reemployment. They’ll focus their energies more closely on the key drivers you want them to focus, enabling them to boost activity.

Better, Data-Driven Decision

Gone are the days when you’ll propose doing a flavor of the year training program. With key data on metrics, your agency will know conclusively where you should make investments for the best community impact. If your KPIs show a steady increase in technology related jobs, you’ll be able to do a deeper dive into those trends to see what trainings would support those employers the most.

Improved Collaboration and Communication

How closely aligned are your case managers with your job developers? One of the biggest complaints I hear is how little collaboration there is between these two important sides of the house. One side feeds the other, but when there are breakdowns in communication, outcomes are lost. KPIs get everyone playing from the same sheet of music, aligning both case management and business services to “true north” and accelerating outcomes.

How To Track KPIs

If you are managing a small data set or have a small team, it is possible to manage KPIs using something as simple as a Google doc spreadsheet. However, for larger agencies or for more detailed data, I recommend using a CRM platform like Workforce for Salesforce.

Keep in mind most CRM solutions are specifically tailored for small business Sales departments and not Workforce or Economic Development, so some customization may be required.  By using a cloud CRM system your staff will be entering activity on a daily basis, and the system will collect and calculate for you so you save valuable time not manually entering it all into a spreadsheet.

If It’s Not in the System It Didn’t Happen

Way too many agencies make assumptions on performance outcomes without measurable data. We have a saying at Launchpad: “If it’s not in the system it didn’t happen.” If we want to move the needle on reducing welfare or creating more jobs in the inner city, we have to be willing to track activity metrics on an ongoing basis. Your job developers should be reporting to their management on a weekly basis: How many new job orders did they bring in? How many new placements did they make last week?

Keep a Rhythm

At a minimum, I recommend workforce development agencies manage their KPIs on a weekly basis down to the staff level.

In the private sector, there’s  a term for regular activity tracking, and it’s called “rhythm” or “cadence.” It simply refers to the frequency at which you are tracking and managing your KPIs. My fiancée is a branch manager for Wells Fargo, and every morning @ 8:00 AM sharp, she and the other branch managers in the region get on a conference call with their regional manager to report activity numbers and goals for the day.

I guess this helps explain why Wells Fargo is one of the top performing banks in the country. Their rhythm gives executive management clear and timely visibility into the organization’s performance.

Transforming our communities, whether inner-city or rural, can be done, but it requires keeping a finger on the pulse of the activity that creates the outcomes we seek. Seeing more people going from welfare into jobs, or more people going from unemployed to self-employed can become a reality as long as our vision is big enough and our measuring stick is accurate enough.

What do you think? How can we transform communities by using news strategies and ways of thinking? Share your thoughts!


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