Saturday, 7 February 2009

Nancy Killefer quits as Chief Performance Officer

Less than one month after Barack Obama announced the appointment of his Chief Performance Officer, Nancy Killefer has been forced to quit. It must be a bitter blow to Obama, as well as an embarrassment. She has been accused of tax irregularities: not paying tax for over a year and a half on household help.

As I noted in a previous post, Killefer would have been taking on a big job. Obama must now be realising just how big a job it is. Integrity and honesty go to the heart of any relationship – either personal, in business, or that of a public officer. Part of the job of a Chief Performance Officer is to let everyone understand that the numbers that represent performance have to be real. This is a bigger problem than it looks.

Anyone working in a service business who has implemented, for example, a time recording system knows how difficult it is. Problems range from simply fabricating hours worked, to the sheer difficulty of remembering what someone worked on, and for how long. So whilst a database might be filled with realistic looking numbers, they are worse than useless unless they have a close correlation to reality.

It therefore goes without saying that the person who holds the position of changing cultures, altering attitudes, improving data integrity, and bettering performance, must be whiter than white.

Business school case studies are littered with individuals that thought they were above the law. I am sure some get away with it, but there are many more that end up with prison sentences, tarnished records, and failed businesses.

Performance management is about measuring what matters, and then managing what you measure. Figuring out what matters is the first step – and only then deciding how to measure it. This requires good judgement, and a nose for the large and small of what is important.


Killefer must be saddened that her lack of judgement meant she was forced to pay such a high price. Had her standards been higher America would have been the better for it.

I hope Obama finds a replacement worthy of American citizens and businesses
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