178 – The Prime Minister’s mini summit – is there a lesson for local government leaders?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                                         500 words

malcolm turnbull


Some time ago, I posted on what I would do if I was the CEO. This post is in a similar vein.

The new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a mini summit last week and invited leaders from the worlds of business, unions, community organisations and think tanks to discuss the state of the economy and the best way forward for economic reforms.

Reporting about the planned summit reflected the openness of the new national leader to discussing ideas other than his own. It was a move that his predecessor failed to make. The Sydney Morning Herald described the summit as suggesting that the new Prime Minister is keen to discuss big ideas and ‘send a message of creative optimism’ to the leaders invited. The Prime Minister is quoted as saying that the summit is a ‘rare opportunity to achieve consensus on the most pressing economic and social issues’ facing the country.

I am not sure whether the summit reached consensus or whether it will really influence government thinking and action. It has certainly signalled a new approach by Malcolm Turnbull.

It occurred to me that local government leaders could take a similar approach. Imagine a newly appointed CEO asking leaders from within the organisation to a summit on the most pressing organisational financial and service delivery issues facing the organisation.   I am sure that rate capping, public value, service co-production, shared services, underlying cost growth, organisation culture and decision making, and many more topics would get an airing.

You might ask why start within the organisation and focus on finance and service matters. Of course, you could focus on other topics. I think these are the pressing issues that councils are failing to address. Each year more councils are becoming financially unsustainable as their assets age and need renewing, revenues decline, and community demands increase. Services are the key responsibility of a council and the main reason they raise revenues. Being clear about the services being delivered and their means of production is a precursor to a meaningful discussion with the community about what they value and expect from the council, and what are prepared to pay for through their rates.

By leaders from within the organisation, I include both the formal and informal leaders. Like most organisations, and perhaps with more influence than in some others, councils have a distributed leadership. Although the underlying model is ‘command and control’, management is frequently disempowered by industrial relations and their low level of competence in influencing and using systems. As a result the informal leaders become more influential.

I would invite the union shop stewards, social club president, occupational health and safety representatives, the middle level supervisors who regularly step up for higher duties, and the ‘old guard’ who have been there forever and seen everything. I would make a particular point of inviting the dissenters.

I would not invite all formal leaders because it wouldn’t work as a summit if it became a management meeting with add-ons. I would focus on the real talent in the management group – those Directors and Managers who have demonstrated good thinking and genuine interest in improving the organisation. I would leave the careerists in their offices.

After the organisational summit, I would call a summit of community leaders and partner organisations. By this stage I would be in a position to discuss my organisations public value proposition and its operational capabilities (using Mark H. Moore’s strategic triangle as a framework) in an informed way. This summit would enable a real and meaningful discussion to occur on what the council needs to do to add value and what resources will be required for that to happen.

Mark H Moore strategic triangle