City of Minnetonka, MN
Hennepin County, Minnesota
City Manager’s Office
Strategy execution and performance management best practices abound in Minnetonka, Minnesota
Minnetonka, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities with a population of approximately 54,000, is a city blessed with natural resources.
“That’s what we’re known for,” says Mike Funk, the City Manager in Minnetonka. “We’re one of the most heavily covered tree canopy cities in the state…60% of our city is tree canopy. We also have Lake Minnetonka, and so many other recreational opportunities. 54 parks, 107 miles of trails, and thousands of acres of open and natural resource space for the public to enjoy. That’s who we are–it’s our brand.”
But trails, trees, and proximity to parks isn’t all that this leafy suburb is known for–Minnetonka also has a long history of sound governance, driven by the city’s propensity for strategic planning, performance management, and working to drive positive community outcomes.
“Minnetonka also has the brand, the image of being a well-run city,” says Mike. “Historically, it’s been a very well-managed city. We have a AAA bond rating! In the local government world, my colleagues would say that Minnetonka has a reputation for being a well-run, well-managed city with great staff and great public services for the community.”
Honoring that history, and making sure that the future is just as well-managed, is part of why Mike and his team, including Executive Assistant Sarissa Falk, are so committed in using Envisio to drive positive community outcomes.
“Envisio has exceeded my expectations. I think it’s exceeded all of our expectations in terms of how it works for us,” says Mike. “It’s not only about creating the plan, but it creates that functionality, creates the reporting mechanisms. It also hosts our community dashboard. It’s part of our decision making process with the council in terms of the agenda items. And it’s driving our workflow in the organization because it has that accountability element to it.”
The City of Minnetonka exhibits best practice after best practice when it comes to strategy execution and performance management. To figure out how they got so good, we have to go back to 2019 to better understand their strategic planning process and how strong pillars set them up for their future success.
Strong pillars lead to a strong foundation
Like many high-performing local government organizations, Minnetonka’s success begins at the onset of their strategic planning process.
“Our current strategic planning process started in 2019. The city had always had a plan, but when I was hired here it was to bring the same kind of expertise in strategic planning that I had been privy to at Maplewood, where I worked prior,” says Mike. “We weren’t really starting from scratch in 2019, but as I’ve mentioned Minnetonka is one of those cities that just does strategic planning really well. And by that I mean sometimes strategic planning can become goal setting, or just a to-do list. What we did in 2019 was to dive deeper into creating what we all recognize today as a more robust strategic effort.”
Minnetonka’s strategic plan (or strategic profile, as they call it), is defined by the following six pillars:
- Financial strength and operational excellence
- Safe and healthy community
- Sustainability and natural environment
- Livable and well-planned development
- Infrastructure and asset management
- Community inclusiveness
Getting to these foundational touchpoints was a process that required a lot of effort, says Mike.
“We wanted to be thoughtful and deliberate about our future,” he says. “So we brought in a facilitator and spent five different meetings really framing up the strategic plan. We took a step back and revisited our mission, our vision, our values, and from there developed those six main pillars. Council was heavily involved in creating that top level of the plan.”
Minnetonka is a textbook example of how leveraging engaged and active leadership can be a make-or-break element of a successful strategy execution. In our experience at Envisio, there is no substitute for the energy that comes from leading from the top.
“Council was also instrumental in developing the second level of our plan, which are the key strategies,” says Funk. “I believe we have 24 of those, and once that was in place we all understood the framework. After that, it was up to staff to develop the action steps, which make up the third level of our plan.”
“We update our action steps every year, but we generally float between 85 and 95 action steps. And that’s how we make our plan come to life. We operationalize it. And the staff’s role is to create the work, and the performance measures, that feed up into the second level of the plan and ultimately, to our pillars.”
With 27 years of experience in local government, Mike has seen many instances of local governments trying, and sometimes failing, when it comes to strategy execution. In Minnetonka, they have built a well-oiled machine that sees council and staff working in tandem to identify priorities and progress towards them.
“We did a really nice job of framing up council’s role in developing the plan and keeping them at the 30,000 foot level,” says Mike. “And the staff’s job is to operationalize it. It was always important to me as a city manager that we control our own destiny, and part of controlling our own destiny is having those well laid out, thought plans in place.”
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, something Mike and his team are very aware of.
“The next part of that is having the metrics that tell that story,” says Mike. “And tracking data, and using analytics, and knowing whether or not you’re moving the needle. That is where Sarissa’s role is instrumental, in how those action steps and metrics are formed, monitored and updated on a daily basis.”
Good strategy needs even better action behind it
In her role as Executive Assistant, Sarissa Falk is responsible for much of the day-to-day management of the Envisio platform. Without her expertise (and occasional prodding), Minnetonka wouldn’t be as far along in their performance management journey.
“We use the top two levels of the plan, the pillars and key strategies, as multi-year items” says Sarissa. “But the action items change every year. And what we are doing with Envisio, because it has progress bars and we can copy in last year’s items, we can see the total progress moving forward on both action items and strategic priorities. And this keeps people submitting updates, because it keeps them accountable. If they didn’t complete their action steps this year or last year, they still have some work to do.”
Creating a culture of accountability inside an organization isn’t easy–but it’s much easier when you have a champion like Sarissa onboard: someone whose responsibilities include implementing the plan in Envisio, educating others on how best to use the software, and occasionally reminding others to get updates in so everyone can enjoy visibility into organizational progress.
“Being able to actually see the progress of our plan, with each of the action steps, has made people more accountable,” says Sarissa. “And then the needle, as Mike likes to say, will continue to actually move. And we submit updates quarterly, so each quarter we get to see movement on the action steps.”
“And those updates feed into the key strategies, and then up into the pillars. And along with that, we have all of our visuals…those data points are updated yearly. But I always ask staff just to double check each quarter to make sure they are up-to-date, because we refresh the public dashboard each quarter.”
Mike and Sarissa understand that it isn’t just leadership buy-in that is essential to strategic success–getting buy-in from staff at all levels of your organization greatly contributes to the odds of getting done what you need to get done.
“When you talk about buy-in,” says Sarissa, “I want to try and get as many people involved in this process as possible. Sure, it makes it a little more chaotic, because you have to do more training and have more conversations about Envisio and the strategic plan. But I think that by getting people involved, and having more people using the product, there’s more understanding as to how we’re operationalizing our strategic plan.”
Buy-in goes beyond the big picture
As Sarissa mentions, buy-in and employee engagement are key to Minnetonka’s strategic success. They understand well that their initiatives are only as good as the people they trust with operationalizing them.
“Having now worked for two cities that use Envisio,” says Mike, “it’s all about buy-in, buy-in, buy-in. With your council and also with your staff. That takes effort, but without it you just flounder and you’re not going to have the success that you’re looking for.”
Mike is also quick to point out that having a dedicated point person for your strategic plan, like he has in Sarissa, is the most effective way to get that buy-in–”having a dedicated employee with time carved out in their job description to spend time on the plan is a big thing. When everyone is looking around and asking who is going to do the heavy lifting, you have someone who can take charge of that day-to-day management.”
“It goes without saying that leadership buy-in is absolutely critical,” says Mike. “But how we really create action in the city is to assign each of our six pillars with a lead…for example, financial and operational excellence is owned by our finance director. And each pillar comes with a leader, and the leader is responsible for creating a team of approximately 10 individuals who contribute to that pillar.”
“With six pillars and an average of ten members per team, we’ve got roughly 60 staff members involved in the strategic plan. That’s how we’re trying to create a broad reach. And ultimately that creates purpose. Coming to work and doing your job’s one thing, but really feeling a sense of purpose and knowing that no matter who you are in our organization, your work is building towards a greater city–that matters. For us, buy-in means that everyone has a role to play beyond their job description and they know that what they do on a day-to-day basis has an impact.”
Sarissa confirms that in Minnetonka, there are currently 65 active users of Envisio. In her role, she is responsible for liaising with team leads and ensuring that updates from all levels of the organization find their way into Envisio.
“A continual improvement for us,” says Mike, “is figuring out to continue to expand [Envisio’s] reach so it’s touching as many employees as possible.”
Prior to the strategic plan development in 2019, only a handful of people were involved in Minnetonka’s strategy execution. Envisio has helped redefine the organization’s relationship to strategy and now, strategy is something that everyone is responsible for.
“I think that’s true for a lot of cities,” says Mike. “It tends to be a few people at the top that create the plan and try to make it happen. For us, the success of the plan relies on reaching more people on the front lines, and those people having a say and being part of creating our action steps. They’re the ones that are going to be doing the bulk of the work, which is important to point out. They also define our performance metrics.”
Measuring what matters in Minnetonka (and being mindful of what doesn’t)
Minnetonka’s current set of performance metrics floats somewhere around 40–they also use data from their annual community survey as part of the process for evaluating their successes and indeed, their disruptions.
“I think it’s really critical to not only measure your successes but also your disruptions,” says Mike.
“It helps our council and our community to filter priorities,” he continues. “In today’s environment, probably more so than ever, you have a lot of different people wanting to influence policy, influence workload. You have residents or groups that will approach council and say, let’s do this.”
“And so measuring our performance and reporting on our strategic plan with Envisio provides greater focus and clarity for Council. When we look at our body of work at the city and we get requests that come forward from residents or different groups, we turn to that strategic plan and say these are our priorities … Bouncing all over the place isn’t professionally rewarded…it’s too easy to get consumed and reactionary to demands. So all of this provides a framework for council to remain focused on what is important, and to drive decisions and priorities.”
Despite a strong slate of best practices, continuous improvement is the mindset in Minnetonka
With so many strategy execution and performance management best practices in place, it would be easy for Mike, Sarissa and the team in Minnetonka to rest on their laurels and simply continue to input updates and maintain their system–but in the true spirit of continuous improvement, they are working avidly to further integrate Envisio and their strategic plan in all areas of the organization.
“What further success looks like is what we’re trying to figure out now,” says Sarissa. “We bring our quarterly updates to Council, and they’ve gotten used to that. We’re trying to figure out how to keep them engaged. And for our staff, they have to say which strategic pillar their work is affecting or impacting, and report on how it relates to the strategic plan. And I think right now, sometimes it’s just checking a box. So we’re trying to figure out how to keep staff engaged more, as well.”
“There isn’t a finish line with a strategic plan,” says Mike. “And so the question becomes, how do we continue to make it better? How do we make sure it doesn’t become stale? And that isn’t an issue with the software, it’s about doing the right thing with our staff updates, with the city council reports, and the strategic plan.”
One way to avoid their strategic plan getting stale, says Sarissa, is to begin to develop the next phase of it–a process that is set to start next year.
“I’m excited that next year we’re going to revisit our strategic plan,” she says. “And so we’ll be doing an entirely new plan in Envisio, and we’re going to start from a clean slate. That’s where we can start incorporating some of these new ideas we’ve been talking about, and build on the old process but really, start a new one.”
As City Manager, Mike is very aware of the effect that Envisio has had on their internal culture–but moving forward, he’d like to see the software become even more involved in contributing to increased accountability, transparency, and excellence in Minnetonka.
“We use the word excellence often around here,” says Mike. “Our mayor uses that word a lot. Our city is committed to excellence, and a product of that is that we feel we’re a well-run and well-managed city. Envisio drives excellence by providing us with accountability, and providing us with a roadmap. It provides us with the ability to be proactive and not reactive to the day-to-day grind of city life. And so, all that being said, gets us to what I think makes us who we are– a city that does strategy execution and performance management well. We’re going to continue to do it well as we strive for that excellence. And excellence only comes through accountability.”