By Lancing Farrell 1200 words
Raffaella Sadun, Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen have written an interesting article (Why Do We Undervalue Competent Management?) that explores a deep and persistent problem in organisations across the world. This problem also manifests itself in local government.
The article is based on research over the past 16 years in 34 countries involving 12,000 organisations and 20,000 interviews (see more at http://worldmanagementsurvey.org). A strong evidence base is used in providing some clear insights into a problem that is disturbingly common.
The fundamental premise is that competent management practices make a difference to the productivity, profitability, growth and longevity of organisations.
This seems like such an obvious thing to say or write. Of course, the quality of management is critical to the performance of an organisation. After all, aren’t we are all managers and doing something that makes a positive contribution? This is where the story starts to get interesting. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 1000 words
I was talking to a colleague who recently attended a well organised and highly informative national conference on asset management. It was a pity that only three people of the three hundred attending came from local government. The rest were from sugar refineries, steel mills, manufacturing, energy supply, defence, food production, mining, ports, railways, airlines, telephony and numerous other organisations from across Australia. Apparently there was a lot to be learned. So why was local government absent?
Part of the explanation lies in the competing asset management conference run annually by the sector in Victoria. It is well attended by staff from many councils as part of their professional development and to support a sector initiative. I suppose councils don’t see any value in sending staff to a conference that doesn’t focus specifically on local government assets or the way councils have chosen to manage their assets.
A conference theme was disruption. Often it is outsiders who create disruption because they see things differently. Sometimes it happens when insiders are frustrated by the status quo and they venture outside the organisation’s comfort zone. Unfortunately, many organisations and industries are incapable of disrupting themselves. Attending conferences run by your industry is much more comfortable.
It was interesting to hear from my colleague about how other industries view their assets and what they expect from them in the way they are managed. One key difference is that private sector has productive assets that are owned and managed to create shareholder value (i.e. make profits). The value created by those assets is captured by the organisation that owns them. It is different for most public sector assets. Continue reading
Posted by Colin Weatherby 870 words
This is a forthright and practical book full of inconvenient truths for local government. I suppose its relevance to local government depends on whether or not you believe that becoming an outstanding organisation is either possible or desirable. Karen Martin says that people know excellence when they see it and they know when they are not excellent. But do our leaders in local government?
This is another book (and I am repeating myself here) that everyone reading it who works in local government will wish they had read years ago. The key idea is that it is chaos that prevents organisations from becoming excellent. Martin says that managers and workers often don’t see the chaos or its causes. In many cases the behaviour causing the chaos is habitual and invisible. Typically, she says organisations respond to chaos by:
- Becoming accustomed to it so that they think it is normal.
- Recognising it but thinking that there is nothing that can be done about it.
- Embracing it as a good thing and developing skills in coping with it.
Councils do all three to a greater or lesser extent. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 6500 words
Value is often mentioned in local government when talking about services, particularly ‘best value’. However, there is often inadequate understanding about the different types of value, the difference between private and public value, and how value is actually created and managed by an organisation. Sometimes there is the assumption that because we have been busy, that we must have created something worthwhile.
This essay brings together ideas from several earlier posts and is constructed around four hypotheses:
- That there are different types of value created by organisations and for local government public value is the most important.
- Public value is the primary value that must be understood and delivered if councils are to deliver what is expected by the community.
- Value-led management is a way of managing that could transform local government and make it more responsive and effective in serving the community.
- There are simple and effective tools that can be used to improve value creation in local government.
Hypothesis 1: There are different types of value and public value is the most important for local government.
In a metaphorical sense the value that you add is what you ‘bring to the party’. This is determined by what other people think you have contributed and by thinking about what the party would have been like if you hadn’t arrived.
There are different types of value and it is worth briefly considering the difference between private value and public value. Public value is the collective view of the public or community about what they regard as valuable, especially with regard to the use of public money and authority. Moore describes this as occurring along a spectrum from value that is obtained from public services that is essentially private value, similar to the concept of customer value, to public value that reflects the aggregate value expectations of citizens.
At the private value end of the spectrum, the focus is on the individual service recipient and delivering value that satisfies their expectations. At the public value end of the continuum, the focus is on achieving the social outcomes sought by the community or public. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 4500 words
Customer service is, and should be, a major concern for local government. After all, councils are service organisations. Sometimes there is confusion about exactly what customer service means, how it relates to public service delivery, and what aspects of service are most important to get right in local government.
This essay focuses on three hypotheses:
- That ‘customers’ in local government are different to the customers described in most customer service literature and encountered by most service organisations.
- There are six main opportunities for local government to improve service to customers.
- There are simple tools available that can assist councils in getting service delivery and customer service right.
Posted by Colin Weatherby 1100 words
There have been a number of posts on value. In the context of imminent rate capping in Victoria it is timely to revisit some concepts of value relevant to local government. It is easy to overlook the fact that public service expenditure is about creating public value. Especially when revenues are being constrained and thinking is turning towards making savings and cutting costs.
In the diagram above I have used the Kano model from Wikipedia and positioned three key council services that many regard as ‘core’ services – the provision of public parks, waste collection from residential properties, and provision of roads. Each has been placed in a different place on the diagram and I will explain why. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 500 words
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
Posted by Lancing Farrell 800 words
This is the second post in a series of four. It discusses the second and third principles of design-thinking.
Models can be used to examine complex problems. In this context, the ‘model’ is an artefact of the design process that is used to ‘explore, define and communicate’. Typically this will include diagrams and sketches instead of (or in addition to) the spreadsheets and specifications usually used to analyse and resolve problems. According to Kolko, they ‘add a fluid dimensions to the exploration of complexity, allowing for non-linear thought when tackling non-linear problems”.
There are a number of local government services that routinely use models or design artefacts in their work. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 800 words
This is the first in a series of four posts on managers as designers in local government. It might seem like an esoteric topic and hardly relevant, however, every day managers make design decisions, often in ignorance. There is now a body of work on how managers can use design-thinking to improve the customer experience and organisational decision making. I challenge you to say it is irrelevant to your council.
Some years ago I read a book called ‘Managers as Designers in the Public Services’ by David Wastell (Professor of Information Systems at Nottingham University Business School). It made a lasting impression on me. Continue reading
Posted by Colin Weatherby 630 words
In the first post I described a service catalogue and looked at where (and how) to start making one. This post discusses what to do next to refine the service catalogue and use it to improve organisational performance. I have no doubt that a service catalogue is essential to starting a discussion with the community about services required in a rate capped operating environment, however it should also drive continuous improvement by providing a focus for service reviews.
The ‘first cut’ service catalogue that defines services from the customer viewpoint and links that view to organisational structure, is really just the start.
Further analysis is required to determine the link between the service catalogue and organisational strategic plans (especially the council plan). This can be achieved by coding the spreadsheet of cost centres with the themes or key objectives or themes in the plans. This will allow further analysis by pivoting on different criteria. What is the link between council plan objectives, customer defined services and cost centres? Continue reading