Performance Objectives – Public Sector

Performance Objectives – Public SectoWestminster - the heart of the public sector performance objectives settingr

Slack et al. identify five generic performance objectives:

  • quality
  • speed
  • dependability
  • flexibility
  • cost

These generic performance objectives are explained below. There are public sector examples to help illustrate them.


Quality is about consistent performance. This could be meeting a product specification or about providing a superior service.  In the public sector, it could be how many decisions get appealed. Or the number of letters re-drafted before being sent.


Quality increases customer satisfaction. Excellent services for the citizen should  drive public services.


Quality reduces costs and increases dependability.


  • Customer satisfaction surveys where there is a direct service to the public.
  • Internal metrics (e.g. redrafts or errors recorded on a case management system).


Speed is about minimising the time lag between a customer request and its fulfilment. This could be the time taken to reply to correspondence, or to process applications for a grant, licence or other service.


Speed improves customer service and potentially enhances value to the customer.


Speed can reduce stock holdings and risks associated with holding too much work in progress. E.g. customer service calls are usually generated because the customer wants an update.


Measuring speed is best done using distribution curves, average and maximum waiting times for a service. It is misleading to just use an average. Many cases will take longer and the pattern of deviation is as important as anything else.


Dependability is about delivering to target. Does the operation meet the customer’s expectations? Lots of public services have published SLAs, e.g. we aim to reply to Ministerial correspondence within 10 working days.


Dependability improves customer service, or at least avoids complaints.


Dependability reduces costs by solving reliability problems and makes for a stable operation.


Usually in the form of x% within y time.  Sometimes there will be more than one measurement point.  e.g. for Ministerial correspondence we might say 100% acknowledged or replied to within 5 working days and 95% with a substantive reply within 10 working days.


Flexibility is about how much you can change the service or the timing of when it is delivered. Typically in a public sector environment this would refer to whether or not teams are specialised or can staff be used to clear bottlenecks.


Being flexible allows an operation to

  • add new products/services frequently (product/service flexibility)
  • offer a wide range of products and services (mix flexibility)
  • deliver different volumes (volume flexibility)
  • deliver at different times (delivery flexibility)


Flexibility can speed up response times, save time wasted in changeovers and maintain dependability.


This is rare as a performance objective in the public sector. Largely because it is quite hard to measure the capability to do this. Often flexibility comes at a higher cost than public services are willing to carry.


Cost is about being able to reduce the unit cost. Mainly this is about efficiency and delivering the same results with fewer people or other resources.


Low costs allow reduced prices for higher volumes or increase profitability.


Cost performance typically comes from good performance in the other objectives.


Typically around showing budget savings or reducing headcount while delivering the same or better services/outputs. There are services that measure unit cost, and in those cases you would expect that to be reported on and reduced.

Using the Generic Performance Objectives

You shouldn’t  just apply these five to everything that you do. You should use them to help you understand what is worth measuring. Most services should have two or three performance objectives that generate tension in meeting them. Performance objectives drive behaviour in those being measured. Almost everyone will try to get the best possible measures for the least effort. Construct specific performance objectives so that the behaviour you want to see is the easiest to deliver while optimising the performance scores.


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