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Middle managers deal with lots of difficult and unusual matters and sometimes it rubs off on them. The sense that local government has a ‘chip on its shoulder’ is often prevalent. Is local government a plaintive country tune or a majestic aria? You decide.

In a similar vein, how might phenomenology, cautery and augury relevant be concepts to local government today?

What if local government was a car? What sort of car would it be? Five cars that have formed part of the great Australian motoring tradition – the Hyundai Excel, Leyland P76, Volvo 240, Alfa Romeo 1750 GT and the Tesla Model S are ‘road tested’ for their potential as a council.

The power of an analogy shouldn’t be overlooked. In an imaginative piece, Tim Wistler describes how the rules of Australian Rules football could be changed so that it operates the same way as local government. Obviously, this will have implications for the game as a spectacle attracting tens of thousands of people to watch games. Would such a change attract even more?

High performance

High performance is a desired but distant state in local government. An article by Frank Ostroff from Harvard Business Review (Change Management in Government) discusses making high performance happen. He describes four unique barriers to change in the public service related to leader skills, leader tenure, rules that create inflexibility, and stakeholder resistance to reform.

What does a high performance local government organisation (HPLOGO) look like? A methodology is proposed to define and create a HPLOGO. Based on the work of Andre de Waal, a set of characteristics of a HPLOGO are described (as actions) and prioritised.

Councils use many tools to help manage change. Colin Weatherby discusses what you can expect to find if you carried out an organisational self assessment (OSA) using the Australian Business Excellence Framework.  He poses the question ‘Do you need an OSA?’ I think the answer is yes and what you will find out when you do one will probably be enlightening.

Helping councils to fundamentally re-think what they are doing rather than continue to optimise current activities is important if they are to meet the challenges of the future.  Viewing a service as a value chain enables the demand and supply chains to be separated and joined by a ‘value proposition’ to focus operations design on creating specific value required by customers. Is there a need to redesign council operations to deliver better value?  The ideas of Mark H. Moore, and David Walters and Mark Rainbird are linked to provide an integrated approach to understanding value.

Internal services

Councils have two main types of services – those delivered internally to council staff and those delivered externally to the community. The question is – are ‘productivity’ improvements made at the centre of the organisation always a genuine improvement?  Sometimes they can reduce centralised delivery costs for a few people but pass on greater costs to many times more new decentralised service deliverers. Tim Whistler parodies corporate service cost savings using the analogy of cost savings in external service being made in a similar way.

Job design.

Job design is a critical activity and Lancing Farrell discusses designing high performance jobs. Based on an article by Robert Simons, Designing High Performance Jobs, the first post provides a diagnostic tool for your own job. Has it been designed for high performance? The next two posts (here and here) discuss how to design a high performance management job in local government.  The theory is discussed and applied to three local government management roles.


In response to posts by Squire to the giants about his thought leaders (or ‘giants’) a couple of pieces on giants were posted. The first was on Mark H. Moore and his influence on thinking about the value created through public services.  The second was on David Maister the guru of professional services and a keen thinker on organisational strategy.

Postformal leadership’ is the name being given to thinking about leadership that has developed from postformal psychology. Its proponent, Earl de Blonville describes it as a departure from conventional leadership based on the radical behaviourism theories of Frederic Skinner.

If you were the CEO, what would you do? This question is presented and answered in response to a set of circumstances drawn from real life. The response is to focus the change effort and eight actions are identified.

Councillors regularly push the boundaries of appropriate behaviour in dealing with the council organisation. When this happens, who should ‘push back’ and why?

In a tongue in cheek piece, Tim Whistler suggests that some councils may be more like a coracle than any other sort of craft; circular and at the mercy of external forces. What do you think?


Reading can be great way to learn. Four books that should be read by every leader in local government are discussed The books are Recognising Public Value by Mark H. Moore, The Whitehall Effect by John Seddon, Improving Performance – How to Manage the White Space on the Organisation Chart by Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache, and The Leaders Handbook by Peter R. Scholtes. Each book has a different focus and there is a mixture of public sector and business reading.

Two more books relevant to management in local government are Terry Leahy’s book ‘Management in 10 Words’ and Jay Greene’s book ‘Design is how if works’. Read them and think about how you can focus more on truth, loyalty, courage, values, act, balance, simple, lean, complete, and trust. Learn how to create experiences that your customers crave (or at least get it right most times)!

Unfortunately, not everyone in local government likes to read and CEO’s and Group Managers can be quick to set page limits! The local government reading test discusses one way to determine how keen senior management is. Would you pass the test?

In a slightly irreverent look at top management reading habits (and their likely success with the local government reading test) Tim Whistler has identified three books by Dr Seuss that have management concepts relevant to local government. Get your kids to read them to you if you are struggling!


Many managers have experienced the phenomenon that just when they think things are getting better they seem to get worse.  Richard Farson’s insight into the idea that as an organisation becomes healthier the complainants climb Maslow’s hierarchy is related to the way performance is measured in local government.

Peter R. Scholtes described the role of middle managers as the scrapers of burnt toast’, i.e. as the ‘expediters and trouble shooters’ necessary to make sure that inefficient systems work. It is an interesting and accurate observation. Some suggestions are offered to stop burning toast!

What are the sources of accountability in local government What really drives what we do in local government? Is it what we say it is? Based on the work of Mark H. Moore, the audit, political, ‘pluralist demand’, and legal sources of accountability in local government are discussed.

We don’t always get along with our manager. Tim Whistler recounts his likes and dislikes about previous managers. The lack of commitment to community needs or even professional values is discussed.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect says that people who are incompetent are unaware of it and, therefore, overestimate their abilities. Colin Weatherby links this idea to the ‘Peter Principle’ and describes how it occurs in local government. There are some tips on what you can do if your manager suffers from it.

Local government has a key role in an emergency response. Emergency management is a ‘virtual’ service that is activated quickly when required. Councils must develop the capability to put teams in place to provide assistance during an emergency. Many have excelled. The same skills required to put together teams for emergencies could see teams assembled for other purposes in an approach described as ‘teaming’.

Richard Farson’s great book, ‘Management of the Absurd – Paradoxes in Leadership’, is revisited to discuss the reliance on intuition by experienced managers – and the fact that this isn’t always the case in local government. Maybe we just don’t trust ourselves?

News stories.

The media choose some predictable viewpoints on public sector issues. The impact of training on performance is discussed in response to media criticism of the Australian government public service for its spending on training. The post suggests that understanding, documenting and improving processes would yield more benefit than providing more training for most councils.

Three articles of significance for local government were published on the same day in March in Melbourne in The Age newspaper. Growth in the service economy, restructuring of the national basketball league and privatisation of government assets. You will have to read it to see how they are connected.

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