Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book: The Performance of Performance Standards

The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research has just published a very fine book entitled The Performance of Performance Standards. I know it is very fine because I am both a co-editor and a co-author on many of the chapters.

The book summarizes the work of Jim Heckman and a group of his students on the performance standards system that guided the behavior of the Job Training Partnership Act program. A very similar (though arguably inferior) system guides the current Workforce Investment Act and, due to the bipartisan enthusiasm for poorly-designed performance systems in the Clinton and Bush II administrations, nearly every other government program.

Understanding these programs and the administrative havoc they sometimes generate should be of interest to anyone studying organizational behavior. The work is also relevant to those interested in personal economics; indeed, as I often say, simply having the people in charge of designing performance management systems read, say, Lazear's Personnel Economics book would lead to huge improvements. On the other side, managers in private firms (or non-profits) face many of the same design problems faced by the designers of government performance management systems; the book is relevant for them, and for those who study compensation schemes in firms, as well.

Some of the chapters are rewritten versions of published journal articles, with the rewriting both designed to make them more readable for a mixed audience of policy wonks and academics and to update to reflect changes in programs and progress in related research.

I should note that the book was only 17 years in the making! The original proposal for the book was submitted in 1993 and we have been working on it on and off ever since. My friend Carolyn Heinrich deserves much of the credit for the fact that the book did, eventually, get done and, unfortunately, yours truly deserves much of the blame for the long time lag before it did.

At least, in this case, good things have come to those who waited.

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