High Performance Court Leadership

Janet G. Cornell, Court Consultant, Retired Court Administrator

How can court leaders achieve high performance? This article links the principles of High Performance Courts with concepts in the book High Performance Habits and concludes with high performance practices for court administrators. 

In 2010 the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) published the High Performance Court Framework: A Road Map for Improving Court Management. The High Performance Court Framework (HPCF) ties together elements that support administrative excellence in the operation and leadership of courts. There are certain actions and concepts that court leaders and managers can embrace. In my personal experience, the HPCF became one structure for my court to apply to their annual “Executive Summary.” The HPCF and the CourTools measures provided concepts for discussing the outcomes of court operations.

Several other sources that mention “high performance” have surfaced in recent years. Among them:

  • “The High Performance Organization,” Harvard Business Review, special double issue, July-August 2005. The publication included articles on strategies, leadership, learning, and collaboration—all tied to the concept of exceptional performance.

     

  • “The High Performance Formula,” by Amy Anderson, in Success, October 2017. The article profiled Brendon Burchard, a high performance coach, speaker, and author, and discussed research on the traits of successful people related to influence, social interactions, and habits.

     

  • High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become that Way, by Brendon Burchard (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2017). Burchard profiles six personal and social habits that, if embraced, can lead to success.

To consider high performance, we will evaluate what constitutes a high performance court. Next, suggested strategies for high performance (as published by the NCSC) will be linked to the habits suggested in Burchard’s High Performance Habits.

What Is a High Performance Court?

High performance courts focus on administrative excellence, continually seek sustained operational improvement, use court performance measures to manage, can successfully leverage aspects of court culture, and conduct ongoing assessments of court practices. These traits may indeed ring true to some of us, with today’s focus on improving civil and criminal case handling and revamping how courts deal with litigants’ legal financial obligations.

The HPCF has invited court leaders to measure and evaluate court performance in ten categories (sometimes referred to as the High Performance Court Inventory). These areas are noted below.

High Performance Court Framework—Inventory Areas

1. Procedural Satisfaction—customer perspective on service

2. Effectiveness—how well stated goals are achieved

3. Efficiency—how well processes are consistent (predictable) and stable

4. Productivity—whether processes make the best use of judicial and staff resources

5. Organizational Capital—how well judges and staff are organized to maximize time in support of and to communicate common goals

6. Human Capital—to what level the sharing of performance targets, information, strategies, and results is used by court leaders and staff

7. Information Capital—to what degree an evidence-based measurement and analysis system is in place and used to evaluate court performance

8. Technology Capital—the implementation and integration of technology into operations

9. Public Trust and Confidence—the level of public understanding and support for the court

10. Support of Legitimizing Authorities—the degree to which public resources and funding and linked to measurable court performance

 

When a court leader uses these ten areas to evaluate overall court performance, better operational practices will result. 

What Is a High Performing Leader?

Beyond measuring these ten aspects of court performance and practices, it can be helpful to assess personal performance techniques and traits. 

Seven Leadership Strategies

Seven strategies can help court leaders successfully implement concepts in the HPCF. (See B. Ostrom, R. Hanson, and K. Burke, “Becoming a High Performance Court,” Court Manager 26, no. 4 [2011-12]: 36-44.) They are:

  1. Share the vision—translate vision to activity, articulate and sell the vision.
  2. Explore the culture—manage roadblocks and change processes.
  3. Abandon the lone-ranger approach—use leadership persuasion and seek court-wide agreement.
  4. Focus on the customer—remember the court customers and users.
  5. Get administrative staff involved—use court-wide performance objectives.
  6. Promote collegial discussion—use communication and collective action.
  7. Share results—build support via feedback and publication of performance outcomes.

These strategies have been helpful during presentations on caseflow management or court performance metrics. They provide a checklist of the actions a court manager should take to address a court-based problem.

High Performance Habits

In Burchard’s High Performance Habits, six practices are noted for gaining high performance. They are:

  1. Seek clarity—have a clear view of the goal, how and what to do.
  2. Generate energy—master transition events and overcome resistance.
  3. Raise necessity—have a sense of the importance of action.
  4. Increase productivity—set goals and maintain focus.
  5. Develop influence—obtain buy in and support.
  6. Demonstrate courage—overcome fear of change and challenge (take a risk).

These also seem realistic. Let us turn to how these two sets of practices might mesh together as a comprehensive list or target for court leaders to become high performing. The chart below lists the seven HPC leadership strategies and the High Performance Habits. It also connects the two disciplines, with color-coding of the strategies that “match” the habits.

HPC Leadership Strategies

 

High Performance Habits

Share the vision

Seek clarity

Explore the culture

Generate energy

Abandon lone-ranger approach

Focus on the customer

Raise necessity

Get administrative staff involved

Increase productivity

Promote collegial discussion

Develop influence

Share the results

Demonstrate courage

 

  • By sharing the vision, a leader will obtain clarity and focus on what is to be achieved.
  • By exploring the culture and seeking ways to leverage cultural support or opposition, a court leader will generate energy for performance excellence. Overcoming the need to “go it alone” or work independently will increase momentum by including others to support performance.
  • Courts operate for customers (court users, litigants) and the importance of high performance can be realized by focusing on the user and customer.
  • When administrative staff are included and involved, productivity will increase.
  • If collegial engagement and discussion are used, influence will be developed and realized to the benefit of performance.
  • When performance results are shared, they will illustrate the courage to openly consider performance.

Conclusion

Each list of practices (the HPCF strategies and the High Performance Habits) is realistic and practical. Leaders can review both lists and seek ways to practice them. The strategies and habits will help court leaders achieve program operational excellence, gain efficiencies, and experience success; they will also support personal high performance. These practices can be useful for problem analysis and resolution, program creation and implementation, and court-reengineering actions (e.g., civil justice initiatives; reframing of court actions regarding fines, fees, and costs; and pretrial and bail reform).


Reports are part of the National Center for State Courts' "Report on Trends in State Courts" and "Future Trends in State Courts" series.
Opinions herein are those of the authors, not necessarily of the National Center for State Courts.