“High Performance Culture” Audits Part 2

By: David Childs, Ph.D.

Chief Executive Officer

The Organization Whisperer (www.theorganizationwhispere4.com)

Just two weeks ago, the Government Finance Research Center was kind enough to provide an opportunity for me to share guidelines for high performance in the public sector, reflecting my 35-year career leading City and County organizations (the County Clerk’s Office, County Tax Office and County DMV in Dallas and the City Tax Office in El Paso).

It all boiled down to ten distinct pieces of knowledge that I believe can help other government entities. The first blog item covered notions one through four. Following are the remainder, beginning with item number five in the list of ten.

The fifth question (“What are your agency’s 5 to 7 core performance measures?”) reveals whether an agency knows what its core functions are; what the average process time is; what the current error rate is;  what the average cost per each transaction is; and what the monthly production rates for each employee are?  

These are the kids of inquiries that can be very helpful every time an agency manager says “I need more staff.”  If they cannot answer these questions, then how can they know if they truly need more staff or if their staff needs to perform a bit more efficiently.  During my 35 year career I had only 2 agency managers who could answer these questions when I asked them.

As a specific example, I once inherited a Telephone Unit and the Unit Manager greeted me with, “I’m so glad you are here, I need more staff.”  During ‘peak times’ (after notices/bills were mailed to the public), the average customer on hold wait time was 8m 41s and the call abandonment rate was 48%.  Instead of asking the Budget Office and the Governing Body for more staff, I worked directly with the Unit’s staff to develop a monthly performance report that they helped develop, found fair, and established ‘benchmarks’ (attendance, average length of call, etc.) at what staff considered to be a ‘B+’ performance level.  The report was shared with employees each month and employees who exceeded performance standards received gift cards of their choice. One year later ‘peak’ customer wait time had dropped to 3m 31s and call abandonment rate had dropped to 22%, with exactly the same staff members as the year before.

Next query is a two-parter (“What are your agency’s 5 most critical challenges and/or opportunities for improvement?” and “Explain how each has been responded to during the past 6 months”.) The takeaway? Mediocre agencies tend to tread water and react to fires as they arise.  High performance cultures are constantly alert for opportunities to improve and eagerly implement improvements.

Question #7, (“Describe the last 3 agency improvements that were originally recommended by staff?”) seeks documentation that the agency is truly a united “team” that is openly communicating from top to bottom and united in their shared motivation to make the agency better every day.

Moving forward, the next question asks, (“To what degree do these Departments [ Audit, Budget, HR, IT, Legal, Purchasing ] support or obstruct your Mission?”  It focuses on an often overlooked but absolutely critical factor in what separates mediocre agencies from high performing ones. Mediocre agencies spend much of their time and resources complying with the missions of the “6 Families”, often at the expense of fulfilling their own missions.  High performing agencies maintain the achievement of their own mission as their top priority and constructively cooperate with the “6 Families” as a second priority. Often, high performing agencies will help the 6 Families streamline their own processes and/or the high performing agency will develop a relationship with specific staff members of the 6 Families, the staff who “get it”, who understand and respect that the agency’s mission is important and that the 6 Families are there to constructively support that mission, not choke it.

Next, (“What are the three most beneficial improvements that could be made to organizational resources?”)  As in question #6, this question asks if you are a mediocre agency content to be ‘stuck in a rut’, or are you a motivated, self-starting high performing agency that is constantly alert for ways to improve? For example, has one of sections shrunk in staff size while another has doubled in staff size yet you have never re-allocated work space? 

Finally, question #10, (“Who are the agency’s 3 to 5 most critical relationships?”). This highlights the importance of the quality of the agency’s relationships.  

By asking these 10 questions an agency can internally conduct a very rapid High Performance Culture Audit; and the degree to which that agency is found to be ‘poor’, ‘mediocre’, or ‘excellent’ will quickly provide a roadmap to improvement.