42 – How do you listen to the ‘voice of the customer’ in local government? It can be done.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              740 words

This post follows an earlier post Customer, client, citizen, resident or ratepayer. Who are we dealing with? It takes the concept of value further by proposing some tools that can be used to understand what customers expect and whether those expectations have been met.

I will start with Peter R. Scholtes and his views on the ‘customer-in mentality’, which he says is characterised by ‘thoughtfulness, responsiveness, empathy and altruism’. Customer-in thinking increases the likelihood that customers will get what they need – and need what they get. Listening to the customer is the beginning. Scholtes says we can start to do this by paying attention to what customers say when they contact us to make complaints, ask questions, or request services. Councils typically count the number of resident contacts. Some differentiate between service requests and complaints. Few actively evaluate what customers are asking about or saying to obtain qualitative data to guide service improvement.

Alternatively, or in addition, we can initiate contact with the customer to solicit information through surveys, interview or focus groups. Continue reading

41 – ‘Where does the customer fit into a service operation?’ A brief discussion of the work of Richard B. Chase.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                                     1200 words

In 1978 Richard B. Chase published his paper Where does the customer fit into a service operation? John Seddon says this article began the separation of front and back office operations; something that he believes has created many problems in public sector service delivery today. Maybe he is right. But when you read the article, what Chase is advocating makes sense and I can’t help thinking that it isn’t necessarily a bad idea, rather it is an idea that has been used badly.

Chase is an operations manager. By 1978 he had already co-authored a popular operations management text. He starts his paper stating that a manager needs to understand the ‘operating characteristics that set one service system apart from another’ in order to make improvements. Continue reading

37 – Risk delegation. Who has it at your council?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         480 words

Have you ever wondered who has the formal delegation to accept risk on behalf of the organisation? I know that you probably spend most of your time dealing with systems that seek to reduce or eliminate risk, but what happens when risks must be taken? How do you assess and accept those risks?

My bet is that there is no system to accept risk and that your organisation has little understanding of the risks that are being taken by managers each day. I think that the absence of a system to formally assess and accept risks is the reason there are endless systems to get rid of it. I am not talking about the Risk Register and the big strategic or operational risks that are obvious to everyone. I am talking about the daily risks that arise when something hasn’t worked out the way you would like it to but work must go on. Continue reading

33 – Developing an organisational performance measurement system. Some ideas.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                     820 words

I have been thumbing through ‘Improving Performance – How to Manage the White Space on the Organisation Chart’ by Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache, in particular the chapter about performance measurement. In it they describe measurement is the single greatest determinant of an organisation’s effectiveness as a system, and as the primary tool for ‘communicating direction, establishing accountability, defining roles, allocating resources, monitoring/evaluating performance, and taking improvement action’.

I haven’t seen a local government that has actively used performance measurement this way. Instead, it tends to be driven by external accountability requirements. We use the performance measurement that we do to convince others that we are doing what we should. Continue reading

30 – ‘The better things are, the worse they feel’. How so?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         700 words

This is the title of a chapter in Richard Farson’s rather interesting book Management of the Absurd – Paradoxes in Leadership. Farson is a psychologist, author, and educator. He co-founded the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in 1958. His article on the ‘Failure-tolerant Leader’ is included in the HBR’s 10 Must-Reads on Leadership. He is a guy worth reading.

The idea that things feel worse when they are actually getting better appealed to me because of something a colleague said to me at work recently. Continue reading

29 – Local government shared services. Is it the silver bullet for rate capping? – Part 2

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         950 words

In the previous post, I discussed economies of scale and the cost savings possible through shared services. This post continues the discussion, starting with the implications of front and back office separation.

The history of ‘back office’ and ‘front office’ separation is worth some discussion. According to Seddon, it began with an article by Richard Chase in the Harvard Business Review in 1978. In the article, Chase recommends separating the ‘high customer contact’ and ‘low customer contact’ elements of the service system because of the different operations involved. Low customer contact operations are more efficient and, as a result, have lower costs and it makes sense to isolate them from the disruptive effects of customer interactions if it can be done without sacrificing service effectiveness. However, service effectiveness is exactly what Seddon believes has been lost in many of the cases he cites. Continue reading