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Governance 

11. Monitoring performance

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Introduction and aim

Once an institution’s strategic plan is agreed, governors’ responsibilities are to ensure the plan is delivered and any planned outcomes achieved. This note examines how governors can effectively discharge their responsibilities.

Monitoring strategic plans

Once the institution’s strategic plan is signed-off the executive is responsible for its implementation and the delivery of the agreed strategic priorities and objectives.

For governors to be able to hold the executive to account a process of reviewing institutional performance against planned outcomes needs to be established. This should allow areas of weak implementation to be easily and quickly identified.

Governors' responsibilities

Both the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) and Scottish higher education codes of governance highlight that the governing body should review the implementation of the strategic plan and institutional performance. The CUC higher education code of governance, states the governing body ‘must rigorously assess all aspects of the institution’s sustainability, in the broadest sense, using an appropriate range of mechanisms which include relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) and other performance measures are to be adopted in a risk based framework.’ The Scottish code states there should be an annual process focusing on whether ‘long-term strategic objectives and short-term KPIs’ have been met.1

Rationale for measuring

The rationale for measuring, monitoring and assessing performance is that: ‘Measurement provides focus and feedback. Focus comes from an awareness that outcomes will be examined, and success and failure noted, creating a personal incentive to perform well.’ 2

'Public' institutions

Unless an alternative provider set up for profit, higher education institutions are not-for-profit ‘public’ organisations, providing education for public benefit. While institutions exist for educational purposes, they are also autonomous and independent legal entities and over the longer term need to operate as a sustainable business in order to survive. This highlights the importance of institutions having multiple objectives, and need to manage performance for both today and tomorrow.

Time horizons

Institutions need give attention to their longer-term sustainability, as well as short-term performance . They therefore need to adopt performance indicators that enable informed judgments to be made about their longer-term, as well as shorter-term, performance.

Summary indicators

To monitor performance over the longer-term (eg. 3 years) institutions may wish to adopt two summary (or ‘super’) performance indicators as follows:3

Academic profile and market position: is primarily a contextual indicator, reflecting the institution’s academic aspirations and its intended position within the higher education sector. It seeks to capture the academic character and positioning of the institution, including the institution’s academic profile.

Institutional sustainability: sustainability is not the same as survival, and although frequently framed in financial terms, it is not just about money. Institutional sustainability is about operating in ways, which do not impair the institution’s future capabilities. It includes the ability toattract and retain the staff required to deliver its vision and goals and generate sufficient cash to support strategic investments and manage risk.

Short-term KPIs

Linked to the summary indicators, a set of KPIs supporting the achievement of top-level indicators, but focusing on a shorter time period, should be identified. These indicators will reflect performance in more specific areas of institutional activity.

The balance scorecard4

To accommodate multiple objectives many institutions have adopted a balance scorecard (BSC) or dashboard to report performance.5 The idea of the BSC is simple. Rather than relying only on a set of, financial measures to assess and monitor performance, non-financial measures are also introduced to give a more rounded or balanced basis on which to judge performance.

Adopting a balanced scorecard

The BSC approach starts with the institution’s strategic plan and detailed strategic priorities and objectives. Typically, this might involve looking at objectives in respect of, say, four key areas. For example:

  • Student recruitment and experience
  • Research and knowledge transfer
  • Finance
  • International engagement

Choosing KPIs

For each strategic priority and associated objective the idea is to select KPIs that offer a reliable basis of judging performance. For example, a focus on student recruitment and experience could lead to indicators covering recruitment, retention and satisfaction, eg:

  • Ratio of undergraduate applications to places (measure of demand).
  • Percentage of a cohort achieving an award (measure of retention and success).
  • Results of National Student Survey (NSS) (NSS; measure of student satisfaction).

Agreeing the KPIs

Governors should be engaged in the process of agreeing the KPIs. Governors should satisfy themselves that the chosen indicators are not simply things which can be easily measured, but reflect key priorities and objectives. When selecting individual indicators governors should consider:

  • Are they based on reliable and accurate data that can be objectively verified?
  • Do changes result from management actions? (ie not due to extraneous factors.)
  • Can baselines be established against which subsequent performance is judged?

Governors' role

The governors should focus on a small number of top-level indicators (both summary and short-term) allowing attention to be focused on the key priorities and objectives, reducing the risk of governors being swamped by excessive data.

While governors should only review a small number of indicators, this does not preclude the cascade of the KPIs for the purposes of operational management, enabling, for example, the executive team to link operational performance at faculty/school/department level to the institution’s strategic priorities and objectives.

Setting targets

Normally, a performance target covering the period of the institution’s strategic plan will be agreed for each KPI. Setting the target (objective) may be informed by comparisons with the institution’s past performance (historical trend) or by the level of performance achieved by competitors (peer referencing). The institution may also agree milestones – intermediate targets - for each year of the strategic plan.

If the intention is to improve on current performance then a target may be set which is stretching. Alternatively, where current performance is judged to be good and matches competitors, attention may be directed at maintaining the current level.

Targets may be expressed in absolute terms (level of success in the NSS), as a percentage change, or percentage point improvement (eg movement of 5 percentage points from, say, 70% to 75%).

Governors should ensure that appropriate performance measures and targets are adopted by the institution, and that the data is presented in a form which enables lay governors to make informed judgments about the institution’s progress even though they may not have professional expertise in the area to which the indicator applies.

How often will KPIs be updated?

The frequency by which individual KPIs are updated will depend on the availability of data. For instance, institutions can track applications to full-time courses throughout the annual recruitment cycle, enabling judgments during the year to be made about whether recruitment is on target or action required to correct an adverse trend. Data for other indicators, for example the NSS, is only collected and published annually.

Review of KPIs by governors

Governors will normally review the institution’s KPIs perhaps several times a year. Examination of the data should focus on assessing whether satisfactory progress is being made towards the agreed strategic priorities and objectives.

Traffic lights

When reviewing outcomes, many institutions use a traffic light system to highlight performance. At its simplest, a three-phase red-amber-green (RAG) system is used. If an indicator is significantly off target it is shown as red; if there are some concerns, amber; and if performance is judged to be on target green.

Corrective action

If an indicator is red or there is a marked deterioration in the level previously achieved, governors should expect to receive a clear explanation of the reasons from management and what action, if any, is required. In exceptional circumstances, if poor performance is judged to be outside of the control of the institution, the target itself may be reset.

What can go wrong?

Typical problems that can occur are that the ‘wrong’ areas are monitored, inappropriate indicators are chosen; there are too many indicators; the data is hard to understand and interpret; governors fail to understand the links between different measures; and insufficient attention is given to institutional sustainability or academic profile and market position.

Questions to consider

  • Is there a clear process for monitoring strategic priorities and objectives?
  • Are governors looking at the things that really matter?
  • Are there reliable indicators across all key institutional perspectives?
  • Are clear targets set for the chosen KPIs?
  • Do governors regularly receive clear and informative updates on the KPIs?
  • Is effective action taken if performance targets are missed?

End notes and further reading

  1. See Committee of University Chairs, The Higher Education Code of Governance, December 2014 and The Scottish Code of Higher Education Good Governance 18 July 2013.
  2. Lafley A.G. and Martin R.L (2013), Playing to Win: How strategy really works. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, p149.
  3. Committee of University Chairs (2006), Report on the Monitoring of Institutional Performance Indicators.
  4. Kaplan R S and Norton O P (1996), The Balanced Scorecard. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  5. A dashboard has a set of dials. The face of each dial is divided into segments and coloured: green, amber and red. An arrow on each dial points to the colour of each indicator. If the arrow is directed at the green segment, this shows satisfactory performance, whilst if placed in the red segment, performance is judged to be failing.

 

 


September 2014
E: david.williams@lfhe.ac.uk
W: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance
@LF4HE

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        2. Download MDR7: Caught in the Middle
      8. Download MDR8: Working with Academic Motivation and Prestige
    7. Knowledge Bank
    8. Membership community
      1. Members' Directory
    9. MASHEIN
      1. MASHEIN Members
    10. Ten great reasons to be a Leadership Foundation member
      1. #10GreatReasons1
      2. #10GreatReasons2
      3. #10GreatReasons3
      4. #10GreatReasons4
      5. #10GreatReasons5
      6. #10GreatReasons6
      7. #10GreatReasons7
      8. #10GreatReasons8
      9. #10GreatReasons9
      10. #10GreatReasons10

Governance

Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter

Associate Director, Governance

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David Williams

David Williams

Governance Web Editor

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Welcome...

We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK.

 

Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advise on benefits and services.

 

Find out more about Membership

 

  • Membership benefits

    • 25% discount on our open and in-house programmes and consultancy
    • a free consultancy day
    • exclusive access to research publications, development resources and funding opportunities
    • free regional events
    • funding for Staff Development Forum and MASHEIN activity
    • members’ mailing lists, newsletters and magazine
    • participation in our development networks

    More…

  • How to join

    • Membership is open to all higher education providers and related sector organisations on an annual or three-yearly subscription basis.
    • We have 154 members with around a third taking advantage of the 10% discount offered by three-year subscriptions.

    More…

  • Membership benefits

    • Research and innovation: Access to our latest, highly-valued research, Leadership Insights, Getting to Grips series and practical development project resources.
    • More…

    • Management Development Resources: Flexible workshop materials on key leadership and management development topics, for you to deliver in-house to suit your own contexts NEW: ‘Caught in the Middle’. 
    • More…

    • The Knowledge Bank: Save time with these extensive multi-media training resources for HR, staff development and OD professionals, covering key leadership and management theory and practice.
    • More…

  • Get in touch

    Meet the membership team, your national and regional contacts in the UK and Ireland, and LF networks.

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Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
Peer House, 8-14 Verulam Street
London WC1X 8LZ

T: 020 3468 4810     F: 020 3468 4811

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