213 – What insight does the capability review of one council and the sacking of another give you into local government culture in Victoria?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1500 words

insight light

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

196 – Making local government organisations simpler to manage – why is it necessary?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1700 word

complexity knotted rope

I was at a meeting recently where the team charged with conducting an organisational self assessment (OSA) and preparing an organisational improvement plan (OIP) using the Australian Business Excellence Framework were evaluating progress. It was an interesting meeting of a diverse group of people. By the end of the meeting we had reached a common conclusion – a council organisation is complex and systems need to be disentangled and simplified so that it can be managed effectively.

The OIP actions were developed independently from the outcomes of the OSA. It was only after 12 months of effort to implement the actions that the high level of congruence between them became apparent. Very few actions relating to core organisational systems could be implemented without impacting on each other – they overlapped. Attempting to deal with them one by one wasn’t going to work but joining them all together would create a large and very complicated action.

There is an earlier post on complexity which describes some of the sources of complexity in local government. It helps to know what you are dealing with but that doesn’t make it any easier. This was reinforced by reading former Victorian Premier John Brumby’s excellent memoir ‘The Long Haul – Lessons from Public Life’. In reflecting on the last four years in which he has viewed politics as an outsider, Brumby comments on the lack of trust that ‘permeates almost everything we see and hear about politics today’.

He believes that part of restoring trust and credibility in politics is to give the public a better understanding of the complexity of the issues.

“When I first sat in the federal parliament, an older and wiser member told me: ‘For every complex problem there is a simple solution … and it’s always wrong’. We live in a world where the questions are becoming more complex, while the public appetite is for ever simpler answers: the kind that can be summed up in 140 characters or less”

My question is, do you think that people want to be bothered by the complexity involved in getting what they want through political processes? Continue reading

172 – Fear transmission. What happens when managers’ contracts start to not be renewed?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                         630 words

reject

I was talking to a colleague who has worked at a couple of councils where managers have not had their contracts renewed. She was describing the impact it had on other managers. I was interested in why it is happening, how it has happened and exactly what impact it has had.  Since that discussion I have heard of many more managers who have not had their contracts renewed.  It is almost as if the revolutionisation process has reached a new layer of the organisation.

The first manager was not re-appointed almost a year out from the expiration of their contract. Continue reading

170 – ‘The Utopia of Rules – On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy’ by David Graber.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          620 words

Utopia of Rules cover

Every so often I come across an interesting book that challenges orthodox thinking. This is one of those books. Published earlier this year to a mixed reception, as a bureaucrat I found it rewarding reading. It was also reassuring – maybe we aren’t the half-wit brethren of private sector management. Perhaps the private sector is a poor emulator of public sector bureaucracy?

There are too many interesting and thought-provoking passages in the various essays making up the book to mention them all. I have reproduced some favourites below.

“The rise of the modern corporation, in the late nineteenth century, was largely seen as a matter of applying modern, bureaucratic techniques to the private sector – and these techniques were assumed to be required, when operating on a large scale, because they were more efficient than the networks of personal or informal connections that had dominated the world of small family firms.” (p.11)

This is an intriguing thought when you consider Peter F. Drucker’s observation that by the 1970’s public sector organisations were unsuccessfully copying private sector business management ideas. Continue reading

161- Decision making: Dealing with indecisiveness.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                  1100 words

dilbert indecision

This is the fifth post in a series. Some organisations, like some people, just can’t make up their minds. Ram Charan believes that leaders can eradicate indecision by changing the tone and content of the everyday conversations occurring throughout the organisation. This is difficult in local government where CEO’s and top management are often insecure and sensitive to challenge.

Breaking a culture of indecision will require leaders to challenge assumptions, share information, and bring disagreement to the surface. Charan offers the following example to highlight the signs of indecision:

A presentation is made to a meeting about a proposed project. There is silence until the CEO speaks and asks questions that show they have taken a position on the matter and made up their mind. Then others speak up to agree with the CEO, keeping their comments positive.

It appears that everyone supports the project. But, some are concerned and keeping their reservations to themselves. Over the next few months the project is slowly strangled to death.

It is not clear who killed it but it is clear that the true sentiment in the room after the presentation was the opposite of the apparent consensus.

The key issue is that the true sentiment is the opposite of the apparent consensus. Charan says that ‘silent lies and lack of closure’ can lead to a false decision that is undone by unspoken factors and inaction.

How often does this happen in local government? Continue reading

151 – If local government was a car, what sort of car would it be? Part 5– the Tesla Model S.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          700words

tesla

This is the final post in a series of five. The first review was for the Hyundai Excel Sprint council, the second was the Leyland P76 council, the third was the Volvo 240 series council, and the fourth was the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT council.

The last choice is the Tesla Model S. Futuristic, sustainable and unattainable.   This is really the only electric car that anyone talks about as if they would like to own one. With accelerations times equal to a Holden muscle car, or any other sporty fuel guzzler, they are attractive to the environmentalist car enthusiast. Put on your hessian pants, get in and floor it! Continue reading

150 – ‘Muzzle on council rates’. The Age, 31 July 2015.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         800 words

muzzle

The pressure is on. The Essential Services Commission has released its draft report on the proposed rate capping for councils in Victoria. It has a number of interesting elements and some significant implications for local government. The report sets out which revenues are proposed to be capped, how the rate cap could be calculated, the current forecast for rate increases to 2018/19 under the proposed system (see below), and the impact of the application of an ‘efficiency factor’ to provide an incentive to pursue efficiencies.

The article in The Age describes the major impacts.

“Victoria’s 79 councils had an average rate increase of 3.8 per cent this year. Several councils increased their rates by more than 6 per cent.

The draft report includes indicative forecasts for an annual rate cap of 3.05 per cent in 2016-17, dropping to 2.85 per cent in 2017-18 and 2.8 per cent in 2018-19.

In addition to the cap, the review calls for a new “efficiency” deduction to be introduced from 2017-18 where councils would need to reduce their rates bill by 0.05 per cent because of efficiencies (increasing by 0.05 percentage points each year). Jason Dowling, The Age, 31 July 2015.

So, what are the likely implications for councils?

There have been some previous posts on this topic (see  Council rates capped from mid-2016’, The Age, 21 January 2015 and Labor’s rate cap to hurt services and infrastructure, ratings agency warns’, The Age, 27 February 2015.). That thinking still stands. Councils will have to say ‘no’ louder and more often. Difficult choices will need to be made about what services to offer or not offer, and what the levels of service will be. Some people will no longer be eligible for services as councils start to distinguish more strongly between those who are or are not customers. Expect much more customer segmentation for services delivery. All of this will be difficult for our politicians who succeed by pleasing their constituents.

In many ways this is the easy bit Continue reading