215 – From the Archive: Creative ways to make your capital expenditure target. Some ideas.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          570 words

capital expenditure graph

Originally posted 20 April 2015

Yes, it is that time of the year when our engineers and accountants become highly creative.   By June 30 they will need to explain whether or not the targeted amount of capital works has been completed. Often the target is expressed as simply as ‘90% capital program completed’. Usually it is a KPI for the CEO and senior managers. That makes it an important target.

So, why the need for such high levels of creativity?

Delivering 90% of the planned capital works is harder than it sounds. Many councils would have averaged around 60% to 70% over the last ten years. This is partially explained by growth in capital expenditure that has exceeded the organisational capacity to deliver. Another part of the explanation is that capital works programs have become more diverse with more people participating in the planning and delivery across the council. As a result, projects have become more complex and people with inadequate project management skills are often involved.   Finally, councillors have become much more involved and the capital works program will now have projects that councillors, sometimes in response to community submissions to the budget process, have included – often at the last minute.

As the capital works program has grown, become more complex, involved more people with less skills, and started to include projects without adequate pre-planning or feasibility analysis, especially if they require community engagement, it has become much more difficult to deliver the whole program. But the target remains.

This is where the creativity occurs. Continue reading

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211 – Unpredictability, interdependence, complexity and chaos – why councils need to adopt the Third Principle: optimisation.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              1200 words

the third principle

I recently rediscovered a book that I bought 17 years ago when it was first published. It is one of those useful management books that is an absorbing read when you buy it, and then it quietly sits on your shelf waiting for the day you really need it. It is now a book for the times with rate capping coming into Victorian local government.

Neville Lake’s central idea is that management practice has three fundamental organising principles – effectiveness, efficiency and optimisation. He believes that an organisation can be both effective and efficient but be sub-optimised. This leads to only 80% of its potential being realised.

The other 20% is trapped in processes that don’t work, management models that don’t deliver, and interactions with customers that fail to deliver expected value.

Having worked in local government for 30 years, I have to agree that we are sub-optimised organisations. Continue reading

204 – Rate capping: an update.

Posted by Whistler                                                                         900 words

service brainstorming 2

It has been some time since discussions commenced regarding the imposition of a rate cap on local government in Victoria. There have been a few earlier posts on the topic (see here, here, here, here and here). The rate cap has now been set and the process for any council seeking an exemption from the rate cap has been communicated. The Essential Services Commission has been effectively positioned as a regulator for local government. So what have councils been doing?

I would say not much. The requirement that the community support must be demonstrated if seeking an exemption, coupled with 2016 being an election year, has stifled activity across the sector. According to The Age newspaper 21 councils have indicated they may apply for an exemption. Some councils, including Melbourne City Council, have attempted to demonstrate community support for their rating strategy, which could support an application for an exemption from the cap.

The results from the few people’s panels held have been interesting but not unexpected. The community expects the council to use current resources well before asking for more. They want to see value for money before they will support asking people to pay more tax. Fair enough. Continue reading

167 – High performance: ‘Why I Like People with Unconventional Résumés. Claudio Fernández-Aráoz.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         500 words

its not the what or the how cover

This is the title of a chapter in Fernández-Aroáz’s book ‘It’s not the How or the What but the Who’. It is also the title of a blog he posted for HBR.org . In it he discusses the unconventional candidate with exceptional potential. I was surprised at his honesty in discussing his personal ‘epiphany’ when he realized that, as a recruiter, he had been advocating a recruitment strategy that his own company did not follow.

Fernández-Aráoz starts the chapter by discussing his HBR.org blog post and the response it prompted. Many of the respondents described their frustration at recruiters who didn’t appreciate, understand, or even consider their track record. For many people who have pursued executive roles in local government this is not news.

Many councils or almost all recruiters play it safe. Continue reading

154 – “If it is easy or there is a budget, councils are probably doing it”.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                                          400 words

easy peasy lemon squeezy

The flip side of this statement is that if it is difficult or there is no budget, councils probably aren’t doing it. This is one of my most common bits of advice to residents. The reality is that councils can really struggle to do difficult things. It isn’t that they don’t want to. It is just that the system militates against it. It is worth thinking about the hallmarks of something that is difficult for local government.

It is often something that is new – something that the council hasn’t done before that has to be learnt. This takes time and effort, and can be risky. Someone could be upset by it. You might make a public mistake. I once worked for a council that wanted to be recognised as a leader, but only by doing things that other councils had already proven would work. Continue reading

143 – Developing a dashboard for performance measurement. A case study – Part 3.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         750 words

the score

In the first two posts (see here and here) I discuss the requirements for a performance dashboard for my unit, the sources of performance measurement ideas, and the thinking behind creation of that dashboard. This post has the final dashboard.

At the outset I will remind you that purpose of the dashboard is to provide the performance information that I need in real time to be able to drive my unit. It is not intended to measure everything that might be relevant to understanding the performance of the unit. There will need to be other measures. The objective is to have no more than ten ‘dials’ ion the dashboard.

The performance questions that I have selected that are relevant to real time understanding and management of performance are: Continue reading

142 – A question. If I was the CEO what would I do? Answer: Focus the change effort.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                            740 words

boat builder CEO

I am sure being a CEO isn’t easy. The political environment in Australia is difficult and even more so in local government where the politicians are unpaid and not supported by political parties. There are many other pressures from the external environment – i.e. changing State government legislated responsibilities and increasing oversight of council operations; contentious urban growth and renewal planning decisions; inadequate State services for transport, education and health; and changing community expectations of service. So, if it was me, what would I do?

To begin I would not let the limitations and problems of the political and external environments dominate my management of the organisation. They are both urgent and sometimes important. However, they are not easily influenced and can take all of top management’s time and energy for little return. By all means be engaged and influence where you can but my approach would be to put my effort where no one else can and where I will get the best return.

By doing this, I think there would also be an improvement in the political environment and a stronger position to tackle the external pressures.

What do I mean? I would get my house in order. I would ensure that the resources at my disposal are used to create the maximum value for the community that has provided them. My goal would be for every ratepayer and resident to love living in my municipality. They would love it so much that they would tell all of their friends about it. They would offer to pay more for the services that they or their neighbours need. Every day social media would have stories of the great experiences people have had dealing with the council and the surprisingly good value they received.

Expectations would be met for basic service and exceeded where the value is visible and appreciated. This is the value capture that Sayan Chatterjee  talks about – councils don’t want people to value the services they provide and to offer to pay more so that the council can make a profit. Councils are not in that business. Instead, councils want them to be loyal customers who enjoy the value they get from paying their taxes. That enjoyment and loyalty is the value capture.

I wouldn’t ignore the outside world but I would want to be leading an organisation that redefines community expectations and delivers outstanding value. Here is how I would do that in order.

  1. Provide a more inclusive and less autocratic management style that suits local government culture and organisations expected to work that way with their customers.
  2. Set clear strategy – who are/are not customers; what service will/will not be provided to them; and how will it be done efficiently using available resources.
  3. Improve the customer focus by putting customers first (I mean really putting them first, not just saying it) through understanding the value they expect and designing services to provide it within available resources, now and in the long-term.
  4. Create better processes to make decisions and delegate more decision making and empower staff throughout the organisation so that more decisions are made and faster.
  5. Establish greater accountability by setting expectations and measuring performance so that feedback is provided to support achievement and create a performance-orientated culture.
  6. Focus innovation on areas of the organisation where significant change is required and set up systems to so that everyone continuously improves.
  7. Simplify the complexity inherent in local government by identifying and eliminating process constraints that have developed over time.
  8. Focus on productivity by ‘unlocking’ the capacity of people and resources to ensure that the required services are being provided as efficiently as possible.

I have been told (by a CEO) that a world where ratepayers and residents enjoy the value they get for the taxes is unrealistic and unachievable.  If that is what our leaders think, what hope is there?

I have used an image of a boat builder for a reason. I have a relative who owns and builds wooden sailing boats. After talking to him, I think that leading an organisation is a lot like building a boat. You need to design the boat to optimise the performance required – does it have to be safe in all conditions, will it have to make fast passages, or will it carry burdensome loads? One boat can’t do them all.

Then materials must be selected and the builder needs to understand the properties of those materials – how they are worked to make the boat, how they will perform under load, how they will fail, and how they can be repaired.

A boat must be made with care. There is a right and a wrong way to do it, and doing it the wrong way could lead to failure and loss of life. Finally, the boat needs to be beautiful.

This is an important point for local government.  In the same way that there is no joy in building or owning an ugly boat, success in local government must also include a sense of pride and achievement in having contributed to something worthwhile.

Chatterjee, Sayan 2013. Simple Rules for Designing Business Models, California Management Review, Winter.