139 – A question. If I was the CEO what would I do? Answer: Nothing.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          230 words

heart rate

This is my response to the question posed by Lancing Farrell.  I think the CEO has found local government the way we like it. I am not sure what their problem is. A strong and autocratic style from the CEO reassures us that there is someone at the top calling the shots and keeping the councillors in line. With no one prepared to make difficult decisions it keeps things stable and predictable. This suits the low level of organisational achievement and absence of time consciousness. What more could you ask for?

With people running the place who have been rewarded for their allegiances and length of service, this would be a predictable and easily understood workplace. Recruitment would be straightforward and safe. Anyone with experience in the sector would easily fit in and, so long as they got along with those in charge, could be quite successful.

Why the need for change? After all, why change something when you don’t have a clear idea of what you could or should change it to? Maintaining the status quo is a time honoured way to manage, especially in the face of uncertainty. Doing nothing could be the best thing to do and it is the lowest risk for those in charge.

Fear of change has been a hallmark of local government and an approach that has served it well. It has kept everything in its place. Consistency is important in service delivery and local government has been extremely consistent over many years. Everyone knows what to expect.

130 – Another Giant for the Squire – David Maister.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         1400 words

david maister

This post continues a series started by Squire to the giants about his giants. David Maister will be best known to anyone responsible for running a professional services firm. In the late 1990’s when he visited Australia his seminars were expensive and quickly sold out. ‘The Professional Service Firm’ and ‘True Professionalism’ are still must reads. Maister retired in 2009 and much of his material is still available from his website.

maister managing the professional service firmDavid Maister was born in Great Britain where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, economics and Statistics at the University of Birmingham (England), his Master’s in Operations Research at the London School of Economics. Continue reading

123 – Reinventing Management – Architecture and Ideology. Gary Hamel.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1300 words

inertial incremental insipid

Gary Hamel starts his dissection of large organisations with a series of descriptors; inertial, incremental, and insipid. Reading his paper made me feel like returning to small business. I once heard the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Industry Group talking about a poll of his members. He asked them what they would like from government and they said that they wanted government to be positive, intelligent, and credible – the antidote to the inertial, incremental and insipid.

Hamel is describing what he calls the congenital disabilities of large organisations. By inertial, Hamel means that they are ‘frequently caught out by the future and seldom change in the absence of a crisis’.

 “Deep change, when it happens, is belated and convulsive, and typically requires an overhaul of the leadership team.”

By incremental, Hamel means that despite their resource advantages, incumbents are seldom the authors of game-changing innovation.

“It’s not that veteran CEOs discount the value of innovation; rather, they’ve inherited organizational structures and processes that are inherently toxic to break-out thinking and relentless experimentation. Strangely, most CEOs seem resigned to this fact, since few, if any, have tackled the challenge of innovation with the sort of zeal and persistence they’ve devoted to the pursuit operational efficiency.”

By insipid, Hamel means they are emotionally sterile. He says that managers know how to command obedience and diligence, but initiative, imagination and passion can’t be commanded—they are gifts.

“Every day, employees choose whether to bring those gifts to work or not, and the evidence suggests they usually leave them at home. In Gallup’s latest 142-country survey on the State of the Global Workplace, only 13% of employees were truly engaged in their work. Imagine, if you will, a car engine so woefully inefficient that only 13% of the gas it consumes actually combusts. That’s the sort of waste we’re talking about. Large organisations squander more human capability than they use.”

Hamel is excoriating in his examination of the supposed ‘remedies’ advanced over the years Continue reading

74 – More books to read if you are interested in local government management.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              660 words

Leahy and Greene books

I have previously posted on books every local government manager should read (see here and here). Again I will acknowledge the difficulty in getting people in local government to read and learn especially senior management. My earlier posts started with what I call ‘bread and butter’ reading. This post looks at some more focussed reading on specific aspects of management relevant to local government. Continue reading

72 – Revolutionising local government. How long is it since you were last revolutionised?

Posted by Whistler                                                                          600 words

merry go round

I was talking to an experienced consultant who works with numerous councils recently and she commented about some of the councils currently undergoing ‘revolutionisation’. New CEO’s, in two cases new to the sector, were busily implementing their kitbag of management ideas. They seem to hit the ground running with a program of change. What are some of the features of revolutionisation and how effective is it?

I will start with effectiveness first. It depends on the measure. I can think of a few. Is it delivering on a promise to the councillors who appointed them to shake things up and create change? Is it is improving the performance of the organisation in meeting community needs sustainably in the longer term?

If it is the former, I would think they are mostly successful. Continue reading

62 – “The way to make it in local government is to forget ambition and pigeon hole yourself before someone else does”.

Posted by S. Dogood                                                               1000 words

pigeon hole

This was the advice I received during a discussion with a colleague this week.  Pigeon hole yourself he advised and local government becomes a good place to work.  In some ways he is right.  The discussion started me thinking about why that is the case and how it could be different.

The ambitious face a number of challenges.  First and foremost they can’t be threatening to the Executive.  Secondly, they need to be realistic about their skills and value.  Lastly, regardless of their own role breadth or experience, they run the recruitment gamut as there is always a hierarchy of preferred candidates for any role.  Hiring traditionally take the following hierarchy seeking to recruit someone who Continue reading

24 – High performance in local government. Part 2 – How can you make it happen?

In Part 1 I talked about what a high performing local government organisation could look like. In this post I look at how you can improve performance to become high performing. Change management is a buzz phrase in local government at the moment. Everyone in leadership seems to accept that there is a need for change but they can’t agree on how to do it.

Frank Ostroff has some good advice for change agents in the public sector. He says that sustained performance improvement isn’t hampered by failure to identify solutions; indeed, he suggests they are often straightforward. In Part 1 made a list of 24 actions that you could start with to create a high performance local government organisation. Why not just implement them? Part of the answer lies in what Ostroff describes as the four unique obstacles to change in public services.

  1. Leaders are not appointed on the basis of their commitment or experience in reform. Instead, they are appointed for their ‘command of policy, technical expertise or political connections’.
  2. Leaders are appointed for relatively short periods and have limited time to see reforms through to conclusion. Therefore, they tend to focus on quick policy reforms.
  3. Rules covering activities such as procurement, personnel, and budgeting put in place to prevent wrong-doing have made government inflexible. The penalties for failure are also greater than the rewards for exceptional performance.
  4. Everyone has a rightful stake in government activities. Almost any reform is likely to meet with resistance.

I know he is talking about government in the US, and there are some significant differences in Victorian local government. But there are also strong similarities. His four obstacles are just as prevalent, even if it is for some different reasons.

Ostroff provides some insights into the characteristics of successful public service reforms. He describes five principles and illustrates them in some detail with cases. His first principle is to ‘improve performance against mission’. This resonates with the work of Mark Moore about the creation of public value. As with Moore, he says that the mission should be the focus. Improvement in performance achieving the mission (i.e. creating the required public value) needs to be the fundamental objective of the reform program. This makes a lot of sense in local government, where the ‘why’ often becomes unclear or generic.

His second principle is to ‘win over stakeholders’. This is important within and outside your organisation to create a broad support base for reform. His third principle is to ‘create a roadmap for reform’. He suggests three phases; identify performance objectives; set priorities; and roll out the program. It is essential to formulate a vision and set a clear path for reform.

The fourth principle is to take a comprehensive approach. He relates reform to organisational redesign involving integration and alignment of leadership, structure, processes, infrastructure, people and performance management. This concurs with Rummler and Brache and their thinking about the ‘infrastructure’ required for sustained performance improvement, as opposed to episodic campaigns. This involves seeing the organisation vertically and horizontally. They talk about the various levels of an organisation (vertical) and the performance needs (horizontal). I have reproduced their ‘nine performance variables’ diagram below.

the 9 performance variables

The performance needs must be met by the organisational leadership to ensure that work flows smoothly across boundaries. I think that taking a comprehensive approach is particularly good advice for local government, which seems to naturally form silos based on disciplines or functions. Failure to integrate or align is often the reason that reform is necessary.

The last principle is about the importance of being a leader, not a bureaucrat. Ostroff believes that public service managers are inherently respectful of barriers and may hesitate to remove them. There needs to be a readiness to demolish barriers to reform. He says that they are also likely to have to establish trust and demonstrate their sincerity. The failure of successive reforms often leads to cynicism, which needs to be overcome.

Ostroff cautions of the need to be aware of present realities, respect the complexity of what you are trying to do, and to hold people accountable for both results and their commitment to the reform effort. These are key points for local government reform. Present realities include organisational culture and its resistance to change. The complexity inherent in local government activities presents special challenges during a period of reform. Finally, the lack of effort to measure performance and use results to improve seems to be a hallmark of local government. In a reform process there must be accountability if it is to endure once the reform has been implemented.

In a nutshell, formulate your vision, take your present situation into account, seek the support of your stakeholders, set a clear path, be mindful of the complexity in what you are doing, and hold people accountable. Good luck.

Lancing Farrell

Ostroff, Frank   2006. Change Management in Government, in Harvard Business Review, May.

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