Western Bay of Plenty District Council

Improving integration, workforce engagement, and customer focus to boost customer satisfaction and reinvigorate employees.

Building on success to continuously improve

Western Bay of Plenty District Council logo.In 2009, the Western Bay of Plenty District Council was the first local authority in the country to be awarded a silver award by the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation.

The award marked the end of seven years' work by the Council to align all parts of its business with the internationally recognised Baldrige Business Excellence framework.

Not being an organisation to "rest on its laurels", the Council embarked on a three-phase continuous improvement programme in 2010 as part of a move to position itself for a gold business excellence award.

After the first 12 months of the programme, independent survey results showed the organisation had made further gains in staff satisfaction, which in turn built on already high levels of customer satisfaction.

Combined with this “general tone”, Chief Executive Glenn Snelgrove says the organisation identified three areas to focus on improving: integration, customer focus, and workforce engagement.

“These initiatives cover the three important functions of Council: the external and internal customer relationship and experience, how staff work to achieve and deliver better results, and fine-tuning integrated systems and processes.

“We had to be practical,” says Corporate and Planning Services Group Manager, Miriam Taris. “We didn’t need a quick and dirty solution as we already had a sound foundation, validated by the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation as being up there with the world’s best. So, we knew that any change had to be continued to be led from within and staff had to see the benefits.”

On and off for almost nine months, three Group Managers and the Chief Executive (with a combined 75 years of experience in local government), the Communications Manager, and an external consultant (a former employee and someone who was “in touch with reality”) developed a strategy and project plan setting out how the organisation would address the three focus areas.

The Chief Executive is the project sponsor, and third-tier managers have been closely involved in the development and roll out of the programme.

With the organisation’s strong project management culture, the programme is being rolled out with clear milestones and targets attached to it. Progress is graphically depicted using a “dashboard” and closely linked to the corporate plan.

To support managers in rolling out the programme, “standard management” training is provided by a variety of external providers.

“The training is a really important component as it focuses people on how they can achieve better outcomes for customers internally and externally,” says Ms Taris.

Clear and regular communication, particularly with staff, is another key component of the programme.

Ms Taris says that, through the Council’s business excellence journey, management understood that staff wanted to know what was going on and why, and what the effect was on them.

“It’s against this background we take a ‘warts and all’ approach. They need to know the issues.”

Communication is co-ordinated by a team of one but is delivered by managers, the Chief Executive, and the Mayor.

Every third month, the Chief Executive has a “road show” to meet and discuss with staff how the organisation is performing in general and in line with existing initiatives, what his objectives are for the organisation going forward, to outline what the programme will mean to them and customers, and to answer questions. Group Managers meet weekly with their Senior Managers to identify and report on progress against targets and also to identify what training is needed, what information is needed, and what IT support is required. The Council also reports quarterly on its progress against the corporate plan.

“Staff are very au fait with the process and see what is being achieved as we’ve been so transparent”, says Ms Taris.

A year into the programme, staff satisfaction levels have risen from 76% to 82%.

Ms Taris says there is “no perfect time to embark” on an organisational performance improvement programme because it is always preferable to have more time and money.

“However, you can’t just pay lip service to continuous improvement in an increasingly challenging operating environment.

“It’s imperative to find an improvement framework that’s flexible yet robust, aligned with internationally recognised best practice, and can be owned by everyone in the organisation.

“After all, continuous improvement is something that our people do every day so they have to own it,” she says.

Based on an interview with Glenn Snelgrove, Chief Executive, and Miriam Taris, Corporate and Planning Services Group Manager, on 26 June 2012.

Disclaimer: This case study is the entity’s story – we have not audited the facts but have confirmed with the entity that its story is fairly represented.