Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries

B: Putting the model into actions

B9: Review your indicators

B9.1 Getting the balance right

Before you move on to consider how to collect the data that you need to turn your indicators into targets, it will be useful to stop and review all your performance and impact indicators. There are four main dimensions:

do your indicators reflect the full range of what you are trying to change and give you enough of a picture of whether your services are working efficiently?
have you generated too many indicators? Publications on managing performance usually recommend 15-20 ‘key’ indicators, with any others considered as secondary. If you go much beyond that scale it becomes difficult to gain and retain an overall picture of what is going on.
do all the indicators really tell you something useful and contribute to the overall picture? Are you still collecting ‘traditional’ performance data because you have always done so? Are any of your indicators only used as the basis for making management reports? If so, are they used and how?
user focus/
service focus:
do you have a balance between ‘outward looking’ customer- focused indicators and ‘inward looking’ system enhancement indicators?

B9.2 The Balanced Scorecard

A useful way of ensuring balance in generating indicators comes in the form of the ‘Balanced Scorecard’. This approach was developed in business as a result of concern that:

“because traditional measurement systems have sprung from the finance function, the systems have a control bias. That is, traditional performance measurement systems specify the particular actions they want employees to take and then measure to see whether the employees have in fact taken those actions. In that way, the systems try to control behaviour. Such measurement systems fit with the engineering mentality of the Industrial Age:

“The Balanced Scorecard, on the other hand …puts strategy and vision, not control, at the centre. It establishes goals but assumes that people will adopt whatever behaviour and take whatever actions are necessary to arrive at those goals…”13

More information on the Balanced Scorecard is available here.14

B9.3 Other schools library services indicators


13. KAPLAN, R.S. and NORTON, D.P. ‘The balanced scorecard: measures that drive performance‘ Harvard Business Review Jan-Feb. 1992

14. The Balanced Scorecard. This system, although American and developed in the business sector, provides a useful framework to consult when you are trying to draw up performance measures for the library. The system is based on the understanding that no single measure (in business, usually financial in libraries usually loans/visits) can focus attention on critical areas of the service. However, it can be difficult to design a balanced set of measures that gives a comprehensive overview on your own. The Balanced Scorecard sets out to provide help in this area. “It allows managers to look at the business from four important perspectives and yet minimises information overload by limiting the number of measures used…

The Balanced Scorecard forces managers to focus on the handful of measures that are most critical.”

The scorecard approach is based on answering four basic questions:

  • How do customers see us?
  • What must we excel at? (internal perspective)
  • Can we continue to improve and create value? (innovation and learning perspective)
  • How do we look to shareholders (financial perspective)

Answering these questions together lets you see “whether improvements in one area may have been achieved at the expense of another”. Even the best objectives can be achieved badly. Using this approach means that you can consider disparate elements of the competitive agenda like becoming more customer orientated, shortening response times, improving stock quality, emphasising teamwork, and developing new services, together. Viewing performance and management become more rounded. You do not just pursue loans, or customer satisfaction or expenditure on fiction in isolation.

The idea behind the scorecard is to formulate targets in each of the four areas below (3-5 in each) and to design a measure(s) for each “goal”.

Customer perspective (users)
“Customer concerns tend to fall into four categories: time, quality, performance and service, and cost.”

You need to articulate goals for each of these areas and then translate the goals into specific measures.

It is important to remember that cost does not only refer to the money charged. “An excellent supplier may charge a higher unit price for products than other vendors but none the less be a lower cost supplier because it can deliver defect-free products in exactly the right quantities at exactly the right time … and can minimise … the administrative hassles of ordering, invoicing and paying for materials.”

This is a vital part in relation to Best Value, compete; VFM and for SLS demonstrating value to schools.

Internal perspective
“Managers need to focus on these critical internal operations that enable them to meet satisfy customer needs.”

This part of the scorecard looks at the processes and competencies you must excel at e.g. technological capability; introduction of new ideas; skills, monitoring/evaluation/consultation mechanisms.

Innovation and learning perspective
This looks a the company's ability to grow, learn, develop and introduce new services.

It focuses on measures such as take-up of new services; and time taken to develop and introduce new approaches.

Financial perspective
One company “stated its financial goals simply ‘to survive’, to succeed, to prosper”. For delegated SLS measures like cash flow, growth in customer base, and income by services provided or by school, are critical.