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Digging deeper – are performance frameworks about more than KPIs?

The ramp-up to the 2018 – 28 Long Term Plans means that Councils around New Zealand are about to take a look at their performance frameworks. This is your chance to throw out all those KPIs that have been doing your head in for the last few years ! Except it might not be that easy…

Councils across the country are about to get stuck in – if they haven’t already – to figuring out how they’re going to tell their performance story. I’m working with a South Island Council on exactly this, and it started off predictably.

Staff walked in grumbling about having too many KPIs, some of which couldn’t be measured, many of which weren’t useful to them, Councillors or their communities. Some additional grumbling was directed at IT and associated systems.

Now, I could have left it at that. Drafted up a leaner set of ‘better’ KPIs, recommended a new software package and moved on. Except…. problems are rarely that simple.

So I decided to dig deeper and apply the Structured Conversations model to see what came out the other side. A day and three mini-ILM sessions later, the picture was much clearer. Turns out there were a few bigger problems at play, that new KPIs weren’t going to improve:

  1. Some recent project failures have eroded the trust between politicians and officers. This has flowed through to performance reporting and led to over-detailed, operational reporting.
  2. The alignment between Council’s high level goals and operational targets is unclear. Without that line of sight, staff engagement and buy-in is pretty limited.
  3. The same information is being reported across the board to all stakeholders, in hindsight. This makes it difficult to demonstrate value to any of the audiences.

These deeper issues would severely constrain the impact of any new KPIs. But by responding to this project more strategically, with these issues in mind, we can potentially deliver a powerful set of benefits including:

  • A stronger governance and management relationship
  • More strategic decision-making
  • An improved organisational culture
  • Better service outcomes for the community.

The scope for this performance framework project now includes the following responses:

  • Co-design – a facilitated approach involving elected members and key staff, to rebuilt trust.
  • Benefits mapping – to promote strategic alignment and make measures more meaningful.
  • Outcomes focus – beginning with the end in mind. Being brave and hooking service levels to genuine outcomes, such as better food safety (measured by reduced food-related illnesses) rather than inputs and outputs.
  • Innovative communications – fit-for-audience reporting that uses a variety of communication methods, including in-person ‘pop-up’ reports to Councillors.

This project is now a strategic, considered approach to the performance framework, which considers the wider organisational context as well as how performance information is produced, managed and reported. Staff and politicians are fully engaged and excited to take part, and we are in a strong position to realise a compelling set of higher-order benefits.

The lesson? Get the right people in the roomstructure the conversation and dig a bit deeper!

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