Posted by Whistler 570 words
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
Posted by Whistler 300 words
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.
Posted by Colin Weatherby 1500 words
Two interesting reports have been published in Victoria in the last 12 months – the Organisational Capability Review of Melbourne City Council in May 2015 and the more recent Commission of Inquiry Report into Greater Geelong City Council, released in March 2016. Each report provides an insight into local government culture.
As someone who has worked at three Victorian councils in the last 10 years, and who corresponds regularly with people working at another half a dozen councils, the insight is not surprising. It reveals a deep malaise in the sector that has root causes in the political system, the ways our leaders are appointed, and general organisational leadership capability.
To begin, what are the discoveries in these two reviews of major Victorian councils? Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 1200 words
Have you ever wondered if your manager is for real? Have you ever wondered what they do all day? Has their contribution to work been difficult to see? Maybe you have a pretend manager.
No, this is not a manager bashing exercise. As a long-term local government manager, I respect the effort put in by many of my colleagues. But there are some managers who are just not up to it. And they are not always managers.
Lancing Farrell discussed an interesting book in the last post. I also took a trip down memory lane and re-read parts of The Third Principle. Neville Lake is a practical, perceptive and prescient person. I just love alliteration. His chapter on optimising managers, highlighted by Lancing Farrell, reads as though he looked into the future to see the local government of today. In particular, the sections on eliminating pretend managers and pretend managing resonated with me.
To optimise managers, Lake says you need to eliminate pretend managing and pretend managers.
To start with, Lake says to look for the managers who think their job is to go through the motions of managing and just tick off boxes. Continue reading
Posted by Lancing Farrell 1200 words
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
Posted by Colin Weatherby 1100 words
I was recently reading an article in Aeon magazine entitled ‘Hail the maintainers’. The central idea is that ‘capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more’. I think you could replace ‘capitalism’ with ‘local government’, although I am not sure that we are excelling. We are certainly preoccupied with trying to be innovative (or at least being seen to be innovative).
The authors, Lee Vinsell and Andrew Russell, believe that innovation is the dominant ideology of our era. Pursuing innovation has inspired both technologists and capitalists. It has also attracted critics.
“What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important. Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives that the vast majority of technological innovations. “
The idea that local government must be more innovative reflects the willing (and often mindless) adoption of populist ideas from the private sector by local government. After all, being innovative is sexier than doing what we have always done but making sure we do it well. Continue reading
Posted by Whistler 400 words
Image – The Geelong Advertiser, 2 April 2016.
There have been a number of humorous posts in the life of Local Government Utopia. And sometimes you do just have to laugh. Humour is often used in a uniquely Australian way to make a point. Often the point is quite serious, a I think it usually is in the case of local government.
For example, whilst the Mayor of Geelong, Darryn Lyons (aka ‘Daz’), parades as a figure of fun, the Council he leads is far from funny. If media reports are accurate, it is about to be sacked for bullying, poor leadership, and a general lack of competence. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was a mistimed April Fools’ day joke. Many of his constituents think he is marvellous. Some find this surprising but I think it goes to a fundamental and unfortunate truth about how local government is viewed by many in the community
A colleague related a story to me about the Mayor of Geelong. Continue reading
Posted by Colin Weatherby 500 words
Earlier posts have described how to improve service operations by developing a service action plan and redesigning services. This post looks at how to implement a redesigned service. You may have noticed that not everyone is excited by the prospect of change.
Having said that, some people like change. Others could be frustrated by the current situation. These people could be innovators or early adopters who will readily accept the need to change. The Rogers Innovation Diffusion Curve shows the rate at which a new idea spreads through a group. In any group contemplating change you are likely to have people from each of the groups identified on the curve. Some are going to accept the change more easily than others.
A colleague recently taught me a useful way to help all groups, including the laggards, to engage with new ideas. It was demonstrated by Gregory Bayne of Total Leader and Coach Solutions, Australia. It is designed to overcome resistance to change and is based on motivational interviewing techniques. 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