Nelson City Council

Reframed management roles and focusing on customer service has increased both staff engagement and customer satisfaction.

Complete package key to organisation’s success

Nelson City Council logoA complete cultural shift across the whole of the Nelson City Council has resulted in significant improvements both internally and for the Nelson community.

Four years ago, before the Council was to appoint a new Chief Executive, the Executive Team had some candid discussions about the purpose of the organisation.

Roger Ball, Acting Executive Manager Community Services, and Hugh Kettlewell, Executive Manager Support Services, said they began by asking themselves what we are aiming for. “Why do we get up and come here every morning?”

Although individual parts of the organisation were functioning well, Mr Ball says the Council operated through an accumulation of processes that had been incrementally tinkered with over a long period of time. “And doing the same thing better was not going to be sufficient.”

The conversation resulted in a desire to see the organisation aligned from top to bottom, heading in the same direction and committed to the same purpose. And that purpose was to make Nelson a better place, with an explicit focus on success.

Effective = “Did you get the outcomes you planned to get.” Efficiency = “Minimum use of resource to achieve those outcomes.”

After appointing their new Chief Executive Officer, Keith Marshall, the role of the entire Executive Team was re-written. Their positions were reframed, with the aim of departing from silo-oriented divisions to managers of the Council as a whole.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were then agreed on, which included customer satisfaction, staff engagement, compliance, and capital expenditure.

“Nothing new in having KPIs, of course, but where Nelson City Council stepped outside the box was in making them publicand including them in the current annual plans and annual reports.”

The Council then moved further towards aligning the organisation by linking the Chief Executive Officer’s KPIs with those of individual staff. By reframing the performance management system, all staff were held to account for achieving the Council’s goals.

“We shifted our focus from ‘how do I make my department or role work more efficiently’ to ‘how does the organisation meet the needs of the customer?’”

And it seems they are. Over a period of four years, there has been a 44% increase in customers who highly rate the service they received. Mr Ball says a crucial tool for driving cultural change in the organisation and helping to build cohesion around their purpose has been a leadership programme, delivered to all staff from the Chief Executive Officer down. This programme includes a two-day seminar, ongoing coaching, buddy mentoring, and monthly “get togethers” to embed the cultural shift into the organisation.

Although the alignment package has delivered some impressive improvements in effectiveness, Mr Ball says they are not holding themselves up as a model for other organisations to emulate. He says many of the project’s initiatives were not new to local government. However, he attributes the project’s effectiveness to the fact that the complete package was tailor-made specifically for the Nelson City Council.

Mr Ball is confident, however, that the premise the changes were based on can be transferred to other organisations.

“In our experience, efficiency and effectiveness is not so much about one or any number of projects or initiatives,” he says. “It is about organisational focus, alignment, and a shared vision made real.”

Based on an interview with Roger Ball, Acting Executive Manager Community Services and Hugh Kettlewell, Executive Manager Support Services, on 19 June 2012.

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