22 – High performance in local government. Part 1 – What could it look like?

I think this is a good question. In fact, a very good question. People often talk about ‘best practice’ and ‘performance improvement’ without ever describing how it relates to high performance and what it would look like if it was achieved. Interestingly, the Australian Government Public Service Commission recently published on high performance organisations. This indicates that high performance is becoming a topical issue for the public sector.

As a methodology for describing a high performance local government organisation (HPLOGO) I have used Andre de Waal’s paper ‘The Characteristics of a high performance organisation’ and selected my ‘top 3’ characteristics for each of the 8 elements he describes in the HPO framework. These are the main characteristics that I believe would be present in a HPLOGO. More importantly, this is where I think you should start if you want to create one.   I have limited myself to 24 actions because it is probably already too many. To help act on this idea I have written each characteristic as an action.

To begin, it is important to understand the framework developed by de Waal. I have reproduced it below.

HPO framework

The idea is that the elements influence the degree to which members of the organisation will exhibit performance driven behaviour, which in turn determines whether it is a HPO. Here goes.


Organisational design

  1. Simplify and flatten the organisation by reducing boundaries and barriers between and around units.
  2. Stimulate cross-functional and cross-organisational collaboration by making team work and collaboration the top priority for management.
  3. Immediately realign the organisation with changing internal and external circumstances by setting up an adaptable business model.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention? Foster organisation-wide sharing of information, knowledge and best practices. Not because I don’t think it is important, but it would come next.

Strategy

  1. Align strategy, goals and objectives with the demands of the external environment.
  2. Provide clarity and a common understanding of the organisation’s direction and strategy.
  3. Create a strong vision that excites and challenges based on a ‘big idea’.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention? Lots. Again, this was not because I don’t think it is important. They would come next:

  • Set clear, ambitious, measurable and achievable goals.
  • Balance the long-term and short-term focus.
  • Adopt a strategy that sets the organisation apart (I think this is less relevant in local government).

Process management

  1. Continuously optimise processes by connecting the entire value chain.
  2. Continuously simplify and improve all organisational processes to improve responsiveness and eliminate unnecessary work.
  3. Deploy resources effectively to activities that create value.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention? Lots again:

  • Measure what matters.
  • Create highly interactive internal communication.
  • Report the financial and non-financial information needed to drive improvement to everyone.
  • Strive to be a best practice organisation.
  • Continuously innovate processes and services.

Technology

  1. Apply user-friendly ICT tools to increase usage.
  2. Implement flexible ICT systems.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention? None.

Leadership*

  1. Commit to the organisation for the long haul and balance common purpose with self-interest.
  2. Live with integrity and lead by example.
  3. Hold people responsible for results and be decisive about non-performers.
  4. Apply decisive, action-focused decision-making.

I couldn’t pick just 3!

What characteristics didn’t get a mention?

  • Set high standards and stretch goals.
  • Maintain trust relationships with people at all levels in the organisation.
  • Allow experiments and mistakes.
  • Develop an effective, focused and strong management style.
  • Assemble a diverse and complementary management team and workforce.
  • Grow leaders from within.

Individuals and roles

  1. Align employee behaviour and values with organisational values and direction.
  2. Engage and involve the workforce.
  3. Create a learning organisation by continuously investing in training.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention?

  • Create a safe and secure workplace (I have assumed that this is a given)
  • Develop people to be resilient and flexible.
  • Attract exceptional people with a can-do attitude who fit the culture.
  • Master core competencies and stick to them.

Culture

  1. Establish clear, strong and meaningful core values and make sure they are widely shared.
  2. Develop and maintain a performance driven culture by fighting inertia and complacency.
  3. Create a culture of transparency, openness and trust through shared understanding, by sharing information, and fostering informality.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention?

  • Empower people by giving them freedom to decide and act.
  • Create a shared identify and sense of community.

External orientation

  1. Continuously strive to enhance customer value creation.
  2. Grow through partnerships and being part of a value-creating network.
  3. Maintain good and long-term relationships with all stakeholders.

What characteristics didn’t get a mention?

  • Monitor the environment and respond to shifts and opportunities.
  • Only enter new activities that complement the organisation’s strengths.

You can probably see a pattern emerging. My focus in creating a HPLOGO would be on value creation, systems and processes, integration and alignment, measurement and accountability, the short and the long term, and engagement and trust.

Lancing Farrell

Australian Government Public Service Commission (AGPSC) 2014. (http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications-and-media/current-publications/human-capital-matters/2014/high-performance-organisations/2014/high-performance-organisations).

de Waal, Andre 2007. ‘The Characteristics of a high performance organisation’ (http://www.andredewaal.eu/pdf2007/HPO-BSS2007.pdf)

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