119 – Long read: Three recent local government leadership pieces from ACELG, MCC and IBAC.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                         1450 words

ACELG values based leadership ethos

From time to time something worthwhile will be written about leadership in local government. Mostly, what is written is highly aspirational and touching, but not useful. Three recent reports do provide a useful insight into local government leadership.

The first is a report ‘Council approaches to leadership – Research into good practice’, published in April 2015 by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) and the University of Sydney – Centre for Local Government.  It reports on a research project conducted with 8 councils to look at approaches to leadership development identified as ‘good practice’. The aims are to:

  • Present examples of councils with good practice approaches to in-house leadership development initiatives.
  • Outline the themes and program structures within the council examples that work well to build the leadership capacity of local government managers.
  • Provide some practical guidance for local governments in developing their own leadership programs.
  • Explore some different examples of leadership capability frameworks in use by the sector.

The second report is the ‘Organisational Capability Review’ completed in May 2015 for Melbourne City Council (MCC) by Jude Munro, Dr Bronte Adams and Steve Parker.

The review is an independent assessment of how the organisation is performing. It examined how the City of Melbourne sets its direction, plans and prioritises, collaborates, manages organisational performance and develops and motivates its people.Jude Munro AO   Dr Bronte Adams Steve Parker

The third report is the ‘Local Government: Review of council works depots’ report completed by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) in May 2015. The review was conducted to identify common vulnerabilities and opportunities to strengthen processes in local government works depots. It looked at four areas of depot management – procurement; management of bulk consumables; management of small plant and equipment; and leadership and culture.

What do they tell us that is useful?

18 – Integrated planning in local government. Some questions and answers. Part 1.

This short series of posts follows earlier posts on local government planning (see posts 11 and 12).

First to the questions. Is planning integrated simply because we each make our plans at the same time and tell each other what we are doing?  Is integration achieved simply by joining together multiple independently created plans into one plan? This approach can be seen in many councils. When everyone prepares their plan at the same time, even when they share information with each other about their plans, I would hardly call it integration.  When the 20 or more departmental plans are completed and then joined together, I wouldn’t call that integrated either.  In fact, both approaches are likely to result in the opposite of integration if they create competition for resources and a focus on goals at a local level that is not aligned with organisational goals. So, what can integrated planning look like?

Integrated business planning has been described as connecting the planning function across the organisation to link strategic planning and operational planning with financial planning.  The objective is to improve alignment (thank you Wikipedia).  This makes sense to me, especially in a diverse service organisation like a council where between 20 and 200 services (depending on how you define them) are delivered to customers using resources from a common pool.

Price Waterhouse Coopers have a handy booklet on their web page on integrated business planning that focuses on process integration and functional integration (http://www.pwc.com.au/consulting/publications/integrated-business-planning.htm).  They say that the extent of integration will depend on the size of the organisation, the operating model it employs, the inherent complexity of the organisation and the industry.  Again, this makes sense and picks up on the need to look at your organisation vertically and horizontally to achieve high performance.

Some local governments have been getting in on the act.  The Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government (ACELG) has released a study on strategic planning frameworks across local government in Australia (http://www.acelg.org.au/news/strategic-planning-australian-local-government).  If focuses on strategic planning (i.e. trends and issues in the locality) and corporate planning (i.e. the administration of the council’s own activities).  It identifies a number of practical, conceptual and resourcing challenges for councils in undertaking effective strategic planning.  The most advanced planning framework identified is in NSW, where the Local Government Amendment (Planning and Reporting) Act (2009) has the goal of strengthening the strategic focus, streamlining planning and reporting processes, and encouraging integration between the various plans of councils.

The ACELG study says that in comparison with other states, the NSW Planning and Reporting Guidelines for Local Government provide a very detailed structure for integrated planning.  A ten year ‘community strategic plan’ is the highest level plan, and it sets out the community’s main priorities and aspirations for the future and actions required to achieve them.  Some actions are the responsibility of the council while others are the responsibility of other levels of government or community organisations.

It is accompanied by a ‘resourcing strategy’ that focuses in detail on the council’s responsibilities and includes a ten year financial plan, a ten year asset management strategy, and a four year workforce development plan. The next level plan is the ‘four year delivery program’, which covers the main activities to be undertaken by the council to implement the ‘community strategic plan’ within the resources available under the ‘resourcing strategy’. Lastly, an ‘annual operational plan’ supports the delivery program and sets out the projects and activities to be undertaken to achieve the commitments made in the ‘four year delivery program’.  This planning framework should ensure that plans are relevant, feasible and integrated.

Lancing Farrell

ACELG, 2013. Strategic planning in Australian local government – a comparative analysis of state frameworks (http://www.acelg.org.au/news/strategic-planning-australian-local-government).

Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2011. Integrated Business Planning (http://www.pwc.com.au/consulting/publications/integrated-business-planning.htm).

5 – Local government services. How to define them?

In the last of this series of posts on services (see posts 2 and 3), I discuss ways to define services. The complexity described in the previous post will be evident here too. Unfortunately, nothing in local government is as simple as it could or should be.

You often hear councils described as ‘service organisations’ or being in the ‘service business’. As previously discussed, one of the main reasons local government exists is to ensure that a wide range of services are available to a community. This often means that the council delivers those services. What you don’t often hear about is a concise description of those services, a ‘service catalogue’ if you like. A list of services that helps everyone to understand what services the organisation will provide (and by implication, what services it will not provide). Knowing this should be a key element of organisational strategy (along with who are or are not customers, and how services will be provided efficiently).

Defining services should be straightforward. After all, we are delivering them every day and, in most cases, have been doing so for many years. In Victoria, councils are being asked to define services as part of a sector-wide asset management improvement program. A simple survey of councils revealed very different ideas about what constitutes a service. One council said that it had about 20 services, each defined by a department of the council. Another said that it had about 40 services, each defined by a unit within the council organisational structure (typically several units will form a department). A third council said that it had over 300 services, each defined by a cost centre in the council budget. The assumption seems to be that the organisational structure or budget defines services. This is expedient, but have they really defined services?

The Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government conducted a review of service delivery reviews in 2012. They found that the ‘interpretation of the term ‘service’ for the purpose of reviews varied considerably between councils. Some councils defined services at a broad level and selected about 40 service groups or packages. Others broke them down into as many as 200 to audit and analyse their services at a detailed level’. Most councils differentiated between services to internal and external customers, and between those required to be provided due to a statutory obligation from those where there was discretion over provision. No criteria for defining services were identified in the report.

Geary Rummler and Alan Brache say that the work flow across functional boundaries is ‘how work gets done’. They contend that organisations produce their outputs through numerous cross functional work processes. If that is the case, then services are cross functional processes. Defining them according to functions is unlikely to be accurate.

I think that a useful definition of a service in local government is ‘an ‘end to end’ process that delivers an output to an identified customer’. The service could be part of a set of services that combine to deliver an output or outcome, which is probably better described as a value chain.

There are challenges in defining services as value chains or cross functional processes. To begin with, it challenges conventional thinking about how local government organisations work. Traditional power bases can be threatened if one disciplinary group no longer has control over a service. There will be a need for customer-focussed and process driven performance measures that are aligned with measures of the contributions of functions to the service. Rummler and Brache suggest appointing process owners, who they describe as the conscience, evaluator and champion of a process.

Thinking of services as processes will require fundamental changes in the way the organisation operates but it is more likely to result in high performance in service delivery.

Lancing Farrell

Australian Centre for Local Government Excellence 2012. Service delivery reviews in Australian local government.

Rummler, Geary A., and Brache, Alan P. 1995. Improving Performance – How to Manage the White Space on the Organisation Chart.