Is your municipality making progress? Is it in “growth” mode or “status quo” mode? How would you define your success? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re in trouble, and many municipalities are: The board creates a strategic plan at the annual retreat and then it sits on the shelf as everyday operations steal all the attention. If those operations are not bringing the organization closer to its goals, no one is the wiser. With proper planning and charting tools, it’s possible to keep objectives front and center and monitor how close you are to reaching them all year long.
You Must Have a Plan
If the leadership in the municipality spends all of its time putting out fires, months can pass and no clear priorities will come into view. One thing is certain: There will be fires to put out! Without a plan, there’s no way to keep focused on prioritized objectives.
Say a finance committee evaluates staff compensation packages when there’s an outcry from a number of employees. That’s a purely reactive way of doing business. The same finance committee could create an organizational work plan for the next year, identifying the prioritized projects that it will attend to no matter what crises erupt from month to month. One such project could be to study the compensation structure and plan future changes – perhaps to stay in the top 20% of comparable organizations or to set a fixed rate for annual raises or to peg COLA raises to the inflation rate. Then it moves from putting Band-Aids on problems that have reached a critical point to proactively implementing a thoughtful, well-researched policy.
Alternatively, goals set on annual retreats can be so vague as to be unmeasurable, like “improved public relations.” Without breaking down that goal into a number of concrete steps, it’s likely that nothing will happen. What is needed is a road map of those steps and an easy way to regularly monitor whether the organization is following that map.
Let’s say the municipality has established a plan that converts the strategic goals from the board retreat into action items to work on over the next year. That list of action items could also sit on the shelf!
A board portal with goal-tracking capabilities can actually convert staff input on daily activities into a measurement of progress toward goals. What’s more, it can display that in a concise graphic on a dashboard that all board members can see every time they access the portal.
Let’s take the sample goal of “improving public relations.” Say the board has identified four steps to take to accomplish that objective: 1. Hold three high-profile media events like festivals or grand openings; 2. Hold monthly sidewalk “coffee talks” where police officers are open to questions; 3. Write five articles portraying the municipality in a positive light and get them published in a state or local paper; and 4. Videotape open board meetings and post the footage on the public-facing website.
Then, each of these four activities is assigned a weight. Let’s say the monthly “coffee chats” with police officers are assigned a weighting of 24%. Each month that such a talk takes place, the progress toward the goal of “improving public relations” then rises by 24 divided by 12 months – or 2%. With staff training, the best software can read the daily journals of the relevant actors (in this case, the police chief’s) and increase the annual progress rating by 2% each time.
At that point, a concise graphic of annual progress will reflect an additional 2% of advancement. It could take the shape of a thermometer or a speedometer or some type of pie chart or graph. That dashboard could appear every time any board member logs on to the portal, getting instantaneously refreshed every time a staff member’s activity log indicates the achievement of one of the steps in the plan.
The positioning of the dashboard makes monitoring effortless and continuous. Every board meeting could open with a discussion of progress toward goals, with a clear representation of where things are on schedule and where they’ve fallen behind. Maybe it’s six months into the year, and nobody has published an article on the town. You’re behind. The beauty is that you know you’re behind, and there’s time to catch up. If the organization needs to change course, you will realize it before the next board retreat at the end of the year.
The same technology that facilitates continuous monitoring of progress toward goals for the municipality as a whole can do double duty: It also makes it possible to keep a cumulative file of achievements that individual officers want to keep track of for their next performance review. If a performance review comes up in May, it’s otherwise highly unlikely that an official will remember the time the previous October that a thankful constituent wrote a letter of praise or the time last July when the local news described the town’s response to a dangerous heat wave as “downright heroic.” Goal-tracking software makes it easy to tag such information all year long so it appears in its entirety when it’s time to prepare a report for the performance evaluation.
Don’t let your most important goals fall between the cracks! Distractions on municipal boards are constant. Often, they create so much noise that strategic plans fall by the wayside. With a concrete plan and advanced charting tools, it’s possible to keep your eye on the prize. Then you’ll see the truth of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s promise that “life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.”