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Achieving a High Performance Government

What Needs to Be Done?

By André A. de Waal – HPO Center

High-Performance-GovernmentIn the past few decades, various attempts have been made to improve performance in the public sector. These improvement programs have had mixed and sometimes even detrimental results. Consequently, there is an increasing demand for methods that enable organizations to achieve sustainable high performance. One such a method is offered by the high performance organization framework, describing the five success factors that create a High Performance Government. By focusing on these HPO factors, public sector organizations could increase their chance of becoming a High Performance Government considerably. Research on HPOs shows that public sector organizations worldwide score significantly lower on the HPO factors than excellent (predominantly private sector) organizations do, which suggests that the public sector holds a great deal of room for improvement. Further, HPO research identified six specific public sector improvement themes that need to be addressed to improve the scores on the HPO factors in public organizations: (a) identifying the profile of a High Performance Government manager, (b) strengthening the resoluteness of management, (c) excelling in the core competence of public sector organizations (i.e., client dedication), (d) improving the performance management process of the organization, (e) improving process management within the organization, and (f) increasing the quality of the workforce. If governments focused their attention on improving these themes, a High Performance Government would be created that add significant value to society. This paper describes the HPO framework and the results of applying this framework in the public sector worldwide….


Closer analysis of the HPO research results showed that the five identified HPO Factors are interrelated. It means that when one factor improves the other factors will also improve. However, it does not mean that the five HPO Factors are always equally important and that they can be improved in random order. The emphasis on HPO Factors may shift, depending on the sector, industry and special circumstances an organisation is in. For instance, organizations in the profit sector need to focus on all five HPO Factors to become and stay an HPO, where as public sector organizations initially need to concentrate on the HPO Factors Long-Term Commitment and Quality of Management. The difference in HPO emphasis between the public and the private sector is consistent with the main differences between the two sectors (Andersen and Lawrie, 2002; Moriarty and Kennedy, 2002; Pollitt, 2003):

  • Responsibility structure. In a private organisation, the responsibility structure is relatively simple with a management team and a board of directors. In a public organisation, on the other hand, there is political leadership which is responsible for formulating the strategy, and executing leadership which is responsible for implementing the strategy. This division of leadership and responsibilities causes many conflicts in public organisations.
  • Resources. Both public and private organisations have material assets (e.g. capital) and immaterial assets (e.g. employees) at their disposal. Yet, public organisations have an important asset which private organisations do not have: political power, resulting from the activities they perform (e.g. tax collection, law enforcement, environmental legislation).
  • Strategy and added value creation. Again this is relatively simple for private organisations, in which value (ROI) has to be created for the company’s shareholders. For public organisations, added value is defined by supervisory agencies, which often have conflicting interests. For example, citizens not wanting to pay more tax versus social security recipients wanting to receive more benefits (Dewatripont et al., 1999).
  • Clients and customer satisfaction. It is for public organisations more difficult than for private organisations to aim at increasing customer satisfaction, because they may be forced to act against the immediate interest of their clients. For instance, increasing public security may go against people’s freedom of movement. In addition, it is not always clear who exactly the clients of a public agency are. In private sector organisations, customers pay for and receive products or services. In public sector organisations, citizens pay tax without directly benefiting from it. It is also often difficult to exactly define the goals of a public agency and, consequently, measure its results (Tiel and Leeuw, 2002).

The first two differences (responsibility structure and resources) have to do with the HPO factor Quality of Management, whereas the last two differences concern the HPO factor Long-Term Commitment.


The public sector was adequately represented in the HPO research by the Waal as the worldwide survey collected data on 623 public organisations. Consequently, the statistical analysis of the data and the five HPO factors derived from that, may be considered relevant to public organisations. The HPO research provides public managers insight into the HPO factors and characteristics which create a High Performance Government. Knowledge of the HPO factors enables management to determine the High Performance Government status of their own organization. The High Performance Government status of the public sector worldwide is depicted in Figure 1. No distinction was made between central and local authorities because the data was anonymous.

Read this publication ‘Achieving a High Performance Government’ from André de Waal in Public Performance & Management Review in PDF.

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