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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214 – Worried about pretend managing? More importantly, are you dealing with real or imagined work?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                                          300 words

imagined work

Colin Weatherby has made some interesting points in writing about pretend managing. A colleague recently reminded me of another important idea – there are two kinds of work in any workplace: the imagined and the real.

He was discussing his work in injury prevention in the workplace. In his interactions with injured workers and their managers he has observed that there are two types of work. The imagined work exists in the minds of the managers making decisions about what and how workers will do their work.

When discussing worker’s injuries with managers, the managers frequently describe their understanding of the work and how it happens. This is imaginary work because usually they have not done the work. Some have not even studied the work. They are in charge of the work being performed and believe they know what is going on.

In comparison, the real work is what injured workers describe. It is how they actually do the work. It includes the short cuts and workarounds that are not in any Safe Work Method Statements. It is what they know from doing the work every day.

It is important for managers to know that there are two types of work and that there is a difference.

If managers operate as though their understanding of work is accurate and complete they will make mistakes. And, according to my colleague, workers will continue to be injured. Recognising that there is real work, and that it is important to understand exactly how it operates, is essential. Organisations need ways for the two types of work to come together. The Service Action Plans described in an earlier post is one way for this to happen.

There is no doubt that pretend managers are a problem. But a pretend manager dealing with imagined work is potentially a much bigger one.

182 – Public management, or management in public?

Posted by Whistler                                                          220 words

scaredy cat

I was reminded today of a practice that seems to have crept into local government with the increasing insecurity and risk aversion of top management. It is similar to the concept of ‘risk farming’.

The practice involves your manager avoiding responsibility by setting up meetings for anything that is happening that they sense could have a down side. In the past, a discussion with your manager at your one-on-one meetings would have sufficed. You could let them know what is happening and undertake to keep them informed.

Now, they are likely to ask you to set up a series of meetings involving them and anyone else they can think of who may have an interest in the matter. The purpose is to ‘keep an eye’ on the issue and ‘support’ you in seeing it through. At the meetings you become publicly accountable for your management of the matter.

In the event that the matter blows up, your manager will implicate everyone else involved and they will be witnesses to your failure. Your manager will no longer be held accountable for your performance – after all, there was a whole group of people ‘supporting’ you.

I am old enough to remember when a manager would provide support by encouraging and advising, and by standing by your side when things were getting tough. They don’t seem to be able to get out of the way fast enough now.

As someone said to me recently, when people don’t know something they get sacred and when they get scared their aversion to risk goes up.

171 – A series: Managers as designers in local government. Part 3.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              500 words

design and thinking

This is the third post in a series of four. It addresses some of the challenges to design-thinking.  Jon Kolko has identified several.

His first challenge is accepting that you will be dealing with more ambiguity.

“It is difficult if not impossible to understand how much value will be delivered through a better experience or to calculate the return on investment in creativity.”

He says that ambiguity doesn’t fit well with organisations that value ‘repeatable, predictable operational efficiency’. This will be an issue for councils seeking to use design-thinking. For councils, there is an expectation that value will be created through efficient use of resources without any waste. The strong risk aversion of local government reinforces elimination of uncertainty, or at least pretending it has been eliminated. Embracing a culture or experimentation, customer value creation and risk taking will be very challenging. Continue reading

145 – The deep web and local government recruitment.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         1100 words

deep web

Local government executive recruitment is a game. Often recruitment is not genuinely based on competence and ability. In many cases, relationships are far more important. I have heard it described as the ‘deep web’ – what you see isn’t all there is. So, how does it work?

Councils recruiting a new CEO tend to go for ‘tried and true’ or ‘shiny and new’.  I think analysis will show an alternating pattern from one to another. It is almost as though councilors become bored with their CEO, or, more likely, the CEO refuses to do what they tell them to do. Once a CEO stands up and says ‘no’, they are likely to be on the way out.

Councilors know that they can demand that a CEO does what they want – whether or not it is in their or the community’s best interests. I think that once a council has dismissed a CEO and they have a ‘taste of blood’ they are more likely to do it again and a cycle of CEO non-reappointments and appointments begins (with all the disruption this brings).

When councils are recruiting a CEO, they rely on assistance from the recruiters – companies that specialise in helping councils to recruit executives. These companies can be highly influential. Continue reading

118 – Improving service operations. Why it doesn’t happen in local government.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          500 words

 walking the plank

I have read Lancing Farrell and Colin Weatherby’s posts on characteristics of demands, redesigning operations and improving service operations through action plans and service redesign, with some interest. It is all good stuff and not too difficult to understand or do. The question I ask myself is why I don’t see it happening everywhere across the sector. The ‘special and different’ posts partially explain it but I think there is more to it.

To begin with, the motivation to make improvements doesn’t really exist. People say they want to improve the quality of services to their community, and in response to threats like rate capping they say they want to be more efficient. But they don’t really want to do either.

Most councils have the potential to improve productivity by 10-15% (more in some councils). Continue reading

100 – ‘We’ll get the managers to sign off’. The second most common local government phrase.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          500 words

sign here

I guess this is the second most common phrase and it links to Colin Weatherby’s post about managers spending their time scraping burnt toast. One of the dysfunctions common in local government is the assignment of responsibility to managers for authorising everything by everyone changing a system or process, usually to eliminate their own risk.

I suppose some examples are in order. Advertising for a vacant job. An authorisation will already have been obtained to fill the position but the manager must sign to authorise the placement of the advertisement. Why? I guess that one day someone must have put in an advertisement for a position that wasn’t approved. But is this an effective or necessary control? Has the exception made the rule?

What about putting a new supplier onto the council’s system? Continue reading