For years, the State of Michigan recognized the need for a performance management tool within the Department of Health and Human Services — one that would enhance user experience, showcase staff achievements and foster positive reinforcement among its team.
The department’s existing manual reporting system, Universal Case Load, launched in 2018, but lacked real-time visibility and was only provided to employees on an ad-hoc basis. Then in 2020, like so many public sector agencies, Michigan’s human services agency was forced to adapt to COVID-19 through remote work, magnifying its already strained reporting challenges.
For Nathan Buckwalter, general manager for information technology at the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, the pandemic renewed the need to clearly define metrics of success, establish milestones and motivate employees working apart.
“With so many people out of the office, it was really about ‘How do we rebuild the connection of the work that’s being done every day,’ especially for people who don’t have the same kinds of interactions as they did before the pandemic started,” Buckwalter said.
To address this pressing need, the departments aimed to adopt a tool that measured staff performance, but prioritized human-centered design principles.
Last year, the state’s human services and technology departments launched Performance Metrics, a tool with game-like features, such as leaderboards, badges and point systems, to foster a sense of achievement. The state claims the tool boosted productivity for more than 5,000 human services employees.
“They get little badges for hitting personal performance goals, just like you’d have on the games on your phone,” Buckwalter said. “You have a little leaderboard for the top 5-10 people, so a little friendly competition seems to be kind of a motivating factor — in a non-punitive way.”
While Universal Case Load, the department’s previous reporting tool, allowed users to share casework tasks across teams and offices, it also limited managerial insights and had issues around transparency.
Performance Metrics — which the National Association of State Chief Information Officers this month recognized as a top project — introduced task-based reporting, so instead of an employee bearing the responsibility for every step of case management, different people report their duties during specific phases of the process as the case progresses. These new targets, Buckwalter said, allow the human services department to have less turnover because it was functioning more as a team, which improved morale.
Buckwalter said Performance Metrics also offers visual representations of the impact employees have on Michigan families. For example, with each task logged, the interface can show how many families a caseworker helped feed or how many more people have health insurance because of their efforts.
“What we’re talking about here is social work,” Buckwalter said. “People get into this line of work to help others. And so without that face-to-face interaction, you can lose some of that goodwill that the employees used to feel. So this tool really brings back some of the meaning that was lost.”