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View from the Cordillera

A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute

Building a Win-Win Organization
Streamlining Your Organization (Vol. 1, Issue 27)
This issue is part 1 of a 5-part series on amalgamation-proofing your municipality.  The 2 prior issues are both very critical of amalgamation.  However, despite this criticism of the policy response, it is recognized that there is some duplication and overlap in local government which needs to be addressed.  But, because of its dismal track record, amalgamation should not be the policy of choice.  This issue looks at some far better choices which municipalities have applied, quite successfully, to solve the problems of duplication and overlap.  And, as an added benefit, applying them will assist you to build your case for municipal independence.  It starts with streamlining your organization.  See how improving your communication, simplifying your procedures, and automating your processes contribute to streamlining.  Each of those elements is part of the necessary ground work to prepare your organization for the main event — delegating decision-making.

Delegating Decision-Making (Vol. 1, Issue 28)
This issue is part 2 of a 5-part series on amalgamation-proofing your municipality.  In the prior issue, we examined the 1st 3 of the 5 objectives for streamlining your organization.  In this issue, we focus on objective 4 — empowering front-line staff.  Among the subjects covered are where decision-making is most needed; the kind of decisions involved; why managers agree to delegate this authority; why some managers resist; how to teach sound decision-making; and how to clarify expectations.  The issue concludes with objective 5 — increasing productivity by reassigning responsibilities.  This is a benefit which flows directly from successfully accomplishing objective 4.

Reducing the Duplication of Facilities & Equipment (Vol. 1, Issue 29)
This issue is part 3 of a 5-part series on amalgamation-proofing your municipality.  When those who favor merging municipalities attempt to make their case, they frequently claim that significant savings will result when surplus municipal buildings and equipment are sold.  In every claim, there must be some grain of reality, no matter how small.  In this issue, we see what some enterprising organizations have done to reduce the duplication of those facilities and equipment which advocates claim would be rendered surplus by amalgamation.  This issue looks at municipalities which have no offices, strategies for leasing office space, examples of dual- and multi-user buildings, ideas for freeing-up existing space to lease to others, and what to do if your need for office space is expanding.  It goes on to examine ways to reduce the duplication of equipment, starting with a discussion of when to buy.  It notes how municipalities are sharing computer networks and how 2 persistent municipalities brought much-needed telecommunications infrastructure to their area.  The issue concludes with a review of how 4 municipalities have pooled their road-maintenance equipment to squeeze out duplication.

Reducing the Duplication of Personnel (Vol. 1, Issue 30)
This issue is part 4 of a 5-part series on amalgamation-proofing your municipality.  Organizations are created to provide certain specific results.  Results are achieved by performing activities.  Organizations need people to perform those activities.  The most obvious cause of duplication is when an organization hires more people than the number required to achieve the results it has committed to provide.  In this issue, we look at 2 less-obvious causes of duplication, how to identify redundant activities, and how to convince the various stakeholders to accept your proposals to reduce duplication.  You'll see how to replace redundant activities with activities of higher productivity, what to do if a position becomes redundant, and what to do about redundant personnel.  The message concludes with 2 innovative ideas for finding gainful employment for anyone made surplus by reducing duplication.

Ending Overlap & Limiting the Number of Politicians (Vol. 1, Issue 31)
This issue is part 5 of a 5-part series on amalgamation-proofing your municipality.  Those who favor amalgamation claim that it will end overlap and reduce the number of politicians in local government.  While Issue 01.26 tested the validity of these claims, this issue questions the desirability of those objectives.  Starting with an expanded definition of what constitutes overlap, you'll see how inter-municipal service arrangements can address this issue without all of the baggage that comes with amalgamation.  After weighing some of the costs and benefits of these inter-municipal arrangements, some ideas for leveraging the initial investment are presented.  Then come the questions of who should provide the service and why cost is often the deciding factor.  The section on overlap concludes with a look at how amalgamation has handled it.  Next, we turn to our elected officials.  Are they really as expendable as the advocates of amalgamation claim?  If not, you'll want to know how to keep those in your organization from becoming the next casualties of forced mergers.

Managing Staff Attendance (Vol. 1, Issue 39)
This issue takes us to the City of Surrey, British Columbia.  A suburb of Vancouver, Surrey has been a leader in local-government innovation.  Our case study is a program aimed at reducing employee absenteeism in the Surrey Fire Department which has increased productivity, improved morale, and delivered significant annual savings.  The Attendance Management Program was developed in response to a growing attendance problem — a problem which sometimes left the department unable to meet minimum staffing levels for calls.  Based on an initiative from the United Kingdom, it uses a series of progressive steps that include letters, counselling, and positive reinforcement.  This program is a collaborative undertaking of fire department management, the human resources department, and the Fire Fighters Association.  Both the union and management had a shared interest in reducing absenteeism, making it a good example of win-win.  But, there are more winners than just the union and management.  The firefighters themselves benefit from city efforts to promote wellness and by being able to keep more of what they earn.  The city has been recognized by its peers for its achievement.  And, taxpayers — the shareholders of government — should benefit whenever productivity is improved.

Satellite Business Units (Vol. 1, Issue 13)
From time to time, we present case studies from the private sector which can be adapted to serve local government.  This is the 2nd chapter in the Semco SA success story.  [The 1st chapter appeared in Issue 01.12.]  Faced with a severe recession, this Brazilian firm rejected downsizing, creating instead a 'satellite business unit'.  Staffed by then-surplus Semco employees and given access to then-idle facilities and equipment, this special team was charged with developing projects which would improve the bottom line.  Despite the poor economy, Semco earned a small profit that year.  And, this team was an important contributor to that result.  In fact, it was such a success that satellite business units now account for more than 60% of new products and services and employ nearly 70% of all Semco personnel.  For ideas on how best to adapt this productive model for municipalities and other local government agencies, you will want to read the 5 concluding sections in this issue.

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