The spreadsheet performance challenge
Achieving Scottsdale’s strategic plan has been a journey. “We actually started getting into the business of organizational effectiveness about 10 years ago, in 2009. Our city manager at the time wanted to build a leaner, more nimble organization,” explained Brent Stockwell, Assistant City Manager for the City of Scottsdale in Arizona.
For a decade, management worked hard, not just operating a world-class city, but also prioritizing achievement of Scottsdale’s long-term strategic goals and city council priorities. Brent found he had to revamp the city’s toolbox along the way.
Early efforts with spreadsheets made it challenging to track progress towards the city’s strategic plan. “We started by using the tool we had: Excel,” said Brent. “But, when it came time to update all of our six priorities and 40-some objectives, we were getting constructive feedback from council saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to figure out a better way to really highlight what’s changed and what’s remained the same.’”
The team also automated the process using the city’s budgeting software. “We also implemented a quarterly performance report at that time that included all of the division objectives and measures from the budget book,” described Brent.
“After a year, our performance management team noticed the reports had grown to an unwieldy 50 pages, which city council simply didn’t have time to read.”
The City Manager’s Office needed a better tool to manage, track and report on its strategic plan. “We knew something needed to change. We needed to do it differently.” said Brent, “I wanted to make sure that we kept it simple. For me, KISS meant Keep It Simple Stockwell.
Cascade planning brings focus to Scottsdale
The City Manager’s Office chose a centralized cascade planning and performance measurement system to define, align and execute all city strategic and operational plans in one place. Brent described its advantages:
“You can cascade all the way out from the organization mission statement, through one of our council or strategic goals, into the department center and to the employee level. That really helps us to focus and ensure that we’re working on the critical things that must be done to achieve our goals.”
Brent went on to describe how the city is building cross-functional teams to bust departmental silos. “It’s a great idea to use a team approach,” advised Brent. “We’ve found that it doesn’t work well when you only have one person assigned to each of the goals. It works much better when it’s a team effort with staff from throughout the organization. Some of the best ideas have come from staff, including synthesizing our 50-page report down to six pages!”
Tracking progress feels “awesome”
The system automagically sends out friendly email reminders to management and staff to provide updates on action items. “I get regular emails to update my initiatives. I simply follow the link to my personal dashboard, where I’m greeted with a friendly ‘Loading awesomeness’ message. I love that,” said Brent with a smile. Updates are a synch too. “I just look at what I said about the action item last time, add my updates and submit. It’s so easy to do.”
Megan Lynn, who works with Brent as Management Assistant to the City Manager, explained how the system helps track city-wide performance to provide instant visibility:
“We have the progress status bar which, at a glance, visually indicates whether an initiative is on track, behind schedule, delayed or completed. Progress at the initiative level rolls up to the objective and the overall goal. We’re able to monitor exactly where we’re at for each strategic goal.”
“As part of that process, we’re also blending performance measures that match up with our strategic plan,” continued Megan. “And we do quarterly reviews with the performance management team to dive into each measure to make sure we’re measuring the right thing in each area.”
Brent further emphasized the importance of performance tracking, “One of the lessons we’ve learned is that to make strategic plans effective, you need to have a robust performance measurement program internally as well.”