Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Performance Management Hits the Streets: Organizational Climate and Cultural Change

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 9:10 AM
Pearson I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katherine Destler, George Mason University
Performance management reform remains a dominant force in numerous government sectors, including public education. The underlying theory is that increased organizational autonomy, coupled with performance accountability tied to outcomes, will lead to greater performance (Gormley & Weimer 1999; Hatry 1997). Yet the results have been mixed (Radin 2006; Moynihan 2008). 

Research to date highlights a range of factors that predict performance management success, such as transformational leadership, transparency, and political will (Moynihan & Pandey 2010; Moynihan et al 2011; Radin 2006). This literature has been limited in one important respect: its exclusive focus on managers.

In an era of big data and devolution of authority, street level bureaucrats increasingly are increasingly charged with the responsibility—and power—of using performance data. For example, in public education, new reforms ask teachers to use “data-based decision making” to change instructional practice.

Under what conditions do street level bureaucrats use performance information? Canonical and recent research highlights the importance of organizational and professional norms (Lipsky 1980; Riccucci 2006; Oberfield 2010).  This suggests that performance management reform is best understood as a process of organizational culture change.

This paper asks, “How does organizational climate—intra-organizational trust, perceptions of support, and norms of collaboration— shape teachers’ adoption of performance management behavior?”

To answer this question, this paper examines the New York City schools, which, between 2007, underwent dramatic performance management reforms under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein’s Empowerment initiative rooted in school autonomy and accountability.

Using mixed methods, it triangulates quantitative data from annual surveys of parents and teachers and school performance evaluations that measured student learning and teacher behavior in approximately 1,500 schools with qualitative data from a comparative case study of four elementary schools that varied in organizational climate.

Organizational climate is strongly associated with the adoption of performance management behavior.  Ceterus parabis, a one standard deviation improvement in a school’s climate corresponds to a .25 standard deviation in a schools’ adoption of performance behaviors. Moreover, certain elements of organizational climate have a particular strong influence. Trust among teachers (in contrast with trust of a school principal or external leadership) is the strongest predictor of organizational change, followed by norms of open and honest communication.  These findings stand in contrast to top-down stories that emphasize strong formal leadership and suggests that street-level bureaucrats have the power to fuel, as well as to thwart, performance management reform.

One implication is that leaders seeking to inculcate a performance culture must do indirectly, by encouraging street level bureaucrats to support one another. And as leaders eschew heroic forms of organizational management and consider themselves first among equals, street level bureaucrats must take on informal leadership roles. A key finding of this paper—that teachers in the New York City schools mattered, not just individually but collectively—places a burden upon street-level bureaucrats to shed long-standing norms about individual discretion and absolute control over their classroom or caseload (Lortie 2002:Maynard-Moody and Musheno 2003) and attend to the broader organizational picture.