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Leadership & Management

Practical Performance Management

Performance management – measuring success by tracking progress and reporting outcomes – makes sense for most organizations. In local government, it is becoming more of an imperative as communities demand increased accountability for spending, elected officials want a means to show they are delivering on promises, and other levels of government look for data and other tangible reports for grant applications. At the same time, like always, resources are limited and there need to be practical, realistic options in place to make it a reality.

When I was working with the City of Coquitlam (many years ago), we first started pushing for more measurement of our goals as part of our financial reporting in the City’s Annual Report. The Government Finance Officers Association of British Columbia (GFOA) included measurement on its checklist of requirements for excellence in annual reporting. We wanted to improve our Annual Report (and win their award!), and we began integrating questions in our annual public survey to track and report on our progress in some of our goal areas. (I’m happy to report we won the GFOA award and others.) Our next foray into performance measurement was less successful. We had developed a Corporate Strategic Plan and a Corporate Business Plan, and our goal was to apply a balanced scorecard approach to track and report on our progress. We had a very challenging time identifying viable – and sustainable – indicators that could be used to measure our goals and an even more challenging time implementing the measurement tactics.

As I worked on some articles for Exchange, I developed a better understanding of why we hit a wall and stumbled at the measurement stage. We were trying to apply tangible measurement to intangible goals. As well, while the management team was engaged throughout the process, from Strategic Plan to Business Plan to measurement planning, it wasn’t clear how this would benefit them in their work or bring value to the organization. In The Art of Performance Management, our missteps became clear. But at the same time, we were early through the gate in terms of local governments applying measurement to their Strategic Plan.

Today, about 15 years after this early work in Coquitlam, it’s evident that local governments across the province are implementing performance management programs tailored to the needs of their Board/Council and aligned with the operational requirements in their organization. When writing Practical Measurement. Tangible Benefits, it was interesting to hear from three different communities to learn about the approach they have applied, ranging from technical solutions to tactics integrated into existing processes. As always, we hope that the case studies shared through Exchange generate ideas for how local governments can create similar programs in their communities.

Ideally, we will continue to see performance management programs implemented in local governments across the province to improve the way we track progress, expand the ability of organizations to support sustainable services and communicate success stories to our communities and other key stakeholders.

Effective Change Management

Change is integral to everything we experience in life. In local government, you can practically set your calendar for change. Even if there are no other changes planned, such as in technology, staffing, processes or policies (which would be odd), local governments can predict that there will likely be strategy and policy changes every four years. Change is therefore anticipated and experienced regularly, but most organizations still say they struggle with implementing change effectively.

I find it odd that when we are young, change is exciting – something we look forward to and embrace enthusiastically. As we get older, many of us start to resist change or even become fearful. When change is something we dread, we also tend to look for ways to avoid it at all costs. This shift from embracing change to avoiding it is apparently linked to our natural instincts when we feel threatened. I guess we feel more easily threatened as we get older.

It was interesting to learn more about the neuroscience behind how our brains react to change. As a communications professional, I know the importance of targeting messages to audience needs. By understanding the information needs of different individuals based on their reaction to the change, managers can improve how they motivate people and shift their attitude to be more accepting of the changes underway. In the feature story for this edition of Exchange, Leading Through Change, we learn about how people react differently to changes, options for how to communicate with them effectively, and the tactics and processes that leaders can follow to help employees adjust to change.

In the second article, Managing Employees: Back to Basics, experts share ideas on how to address the challenges that stem from dealing with difficult employees. As the article evolved, lyrics from Eric Clapton’s song kept running through my head: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.” Essentially, managers may find that they could have prevented difficult employee scenarios before they become serious issues. I learned this lesson myself back in the day when I was responsible for staff in my division. I was always so caught up with all my daily tasks, I neglected to do my job as a manager in terms of setting aside enough time every week to support my staff, listen to their concerns and acknowledge their contributions. I received some great coaching on how to be a better manager, and I believe my entire team’s performance improved when I was more responsive and tuned in to what they needed to be successful.

At the same time, there are situations when a manager needs to address behaviours that are disruptive or undermining the success of the organization. That’s not a job anyone wants to tackle, but in this edition, experts share advice on the steps managers should follow that help guide them through dealing with difficult employees. As well, in Tips and Tactics, there is expert advice on what to consider in terms of employee and employer rights and responsibilities.

Overall, as this edition evolved, it became clear that leading a group of people, whether through change or as part of ongoing management responsibilities, involves dedicating time and attention to individuals based on their needs and communicating regularly and effectively. The organization’s success lies with the employees who work each day to deliver services, operate programs and provide administrative support. Creating a culture where managers understand the importance of “managing” in the context of supporting staff who work for them is essential to improving performance and facilitating change

Meaningful Engagement with First Nations

Too often, the news reports focus on conflict and controversy between First Nations and other governments or organizations. The recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has sparked debate and discussion about the chosen wording or process involved, rather than the positive outcomes that can stem from acknowledging a fact in our history, showing respect and consideration to those who were affected, and looking to rebuild in a positive way from here – hopefully learning from our past to prevent future atrocities of this nature. Too often, the negative news takes the spotlight, when in fact, there are a lot of very positive actions being taken, with multiple success stories.

One of the things I enjoy about being the editor of the LGMA’s  Exchange magazine is we can dig past the shallow news stories that thrive on controversy and report to members about the significant progress and powerful changes taking place at a local level, where local and regional governments are connecting with their neighbouring First Nations to create successful new initiatives based on trust and respect. There’s a growing recognition that living side-by-side means that there are opportunities to work together for shared benefits in all communities. And by taking a moment to shift the lens to be more open-minded, learn from each other and spend time building relationships, a number of areas across the province are demonstrating that there is power and reward from these partnerships.

In Meaningful Engagement Based on Trust and Respect, local and regional governments and their First Nations partners share their stories, including what prompted them to take steps to open doors for meaningful discussions, build trust and leverage their working relationships to benefit their communities. They also share the challenges they’ve experienced and what they have learned that can help others.

As well, in Tsilhqot’in Decision: Impetus for New Relationships, the key components of the Supreme Court of Canada decision to grant Aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation are highlighted from the perspective of impacts on local government and how this landmark decision may affect planning, bylaws, operations and taxation in the future.

In many ways, this province is showcasing multiple case studies that prove working together can be a win-win for everyone and that neighbours are neighbours, regardless of whether they are a Town, District, City, Regional District or First Nation, or anyone else with an interest in supporting communities in a shared area. And it’s notable that most of the progress lies outside a court room and instead is about reaching out, taking time to gain understanding and exploring the opportunities rather than dwelling on the challenges.

It is interesting to learn about the variety of successes in our province and refreshing to focus on positive outcomes and progressive steps towards solid working relationships with First Nations at a local and regional level.