In this issue, we focus on strategic planning, performance measurement, and SMART goals.
As a recent “insider” to city government, I leapt at the opportunity to become involved in my workplace’s strategic planning process and budget formation for our biennium. Hence, it was also a very timely opportunity to reflect on Monica Croskey’s article Intersection of Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement. In the article, Croskey, a Strategy and Performance Manager for City of Rock Hill, SC, describes the strategic planning process that her city works through. It is a comprehensive process which takes several days of all-city leadership participation through multiple drafts and iterations. Specifically, I would like to call out the powerful Exhibit 2 (pg. 3), which displays the city’s strategic plan framework. The framework encompasses focus areas (likely derived from City Council goals), departmental goals and objectives, associated tasks and performance measurements. Ensuring that each focus area is drilled down into the actionable and measurable details of tasks and performance metrics is critical to defining the path forward and gauging the ultimate successes or failures of the organization. I recommend Croskey’s article, which provides a phenomenal description of City of Rock Hill’s overall strategic planning process, a process that represents an important investment from both the City Council and City Staff. Often it takes multiple months, requires third-party facilitators, and requires extensive amounts of time on the part of the department leadership and staff to do the legwork aligning the budget with strategic goals. In her overview of the city’s strategic planning process, Croskey points out the importance of performance management but doesn’t delve into many details. This is unfortunate because once an organization decides it wants to become performance-management focused, it sets in motion a transformation toward greater accountability and transparency that can facilitate clear and meaningful dialog throughout the organization and with citizen stakeholders. No longer can beautifully word-smithed, broad-sweeping goals announcing that we will “improve city efficiency”, “increase community engagement” or “increase affordable housing” (as just a few examples) be left undefined and then later declared a resounding success due to a simple increase in budget spend. When your organization embraces true performance management, vague goals—no matter how lofty—cannot survive the strategic planning process. Leaders and stakeholders of data-driven organizations recognize that in order to achieve goals, those goals must be crafted as “SMART” goals. And to accomplish SMART goals, you need metrics. SMART goals can be challenging to articulate for organizations just embarking on the journey to becoming more data driven. To convert a well-intended goal statement into a SMART goal statement requires that you follow the SMART formula by making the goal Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
For example, rather than “optimize useful life of existing infrastructure,” you might say “optimize useful life of existing infrastructure through increasing the Pavement Condition Index by 5%, and to reduce sewer and water outages by 10% over the biennium.” You can see how the SMART goal includes critical and sufficient detail for us to know unambiguously whether or not we have met it. Furthermore, to achieve these exacting goals, we must devise tangible actions and metrics to support and inform our progress, such as number of road miles resurfaced or slurry-sealed, or total sewer pipe miles upgraded and preventative maintenance performed on the water system. Metrics are the building blocks of SMART goals and a performance measurement-driven organization. But determining what is important to both your department/organization and to the citizens is key, as it cannot all be tracked. Once the strategic priorities for an organization are set, then resources must be allocated to determine appropriate metrics. Thankfully, we did not start from scratch. Many national organizations have standardized metrics for various departments (Police, Firefighting and Finance come to mind). Additionally, nationally available datasets published on Data.gov can serve as a reference for what other municipalities are producing on a regular basis. Once metrics are agreed upon, then and only then, can the painstaking process of ensuring the data is available and captured to support those metrics begin. The kicker of all of this is that it will require additional resources to ensure those metrics are constantly updated, accurate and impactful. While the Crosky article referenced was spot-on with respect to the overall framework, the time and resources required to develop performance metrics to support strategic plans should not feel like a byproduct or a sub-process of the planning work. Ultimately, the organization’s performance metrics will be front and center with the citizens as the public-facing report card for the City. As government organizations, we owe it to the citizens we serve, our employees, and our broader roster of stakeholders to provide a transparent, well-defined path towards success. “A rising tide will lift all boats” – performance management will get us there. [Stewart Winslow, City of Bend, provided the article for this issue. If you have ideas for future articles, please submit them through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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