Way Is The Highway
So Super About Collaboration?
Local Government Into A Business
Have you ever lived in a mismanaged municipality? Ever felt the urge to grab your public official and, fighting the rise of your voice to panicked falsetto, wanted to gently prod Wake up! Fix the red tape on building permits? If so, you may take a sly bit of pleasure in this story. The City of Waterloo, Ontario has lived out your local-government-rehaul fantasywith inspiring, red tape defying results.
Waterloo is a city of 90,000, with a healthy variety of businesses including high-tech industry, colleges and white-collar firms. The city government is responsible for operations like water, sewage and road infrastructure, plus municipal planning and a number of other services. Waterloo has close to 700 union and non-union employees, who will tell you how proud they are of their award-winning organization. In its current state, the City of Waterloo has achieved a zero percent tax increase over the past year while generating a surplus of over $1 million in 1996 and had a total savings in 1997 of $1.4 million. You dont hear those kinds of statistics in private industry often, and even less when it comes to government. But it wasnt always this way.
A Turnaround in Waterloo
At the time, the city of Waterloo was a typical bureaucracy with clear divisions of responsibilities and a hierarchy of authority. Policy decisions were made from the top down and communicated to employees. Worker morale was at an all-time low, and the staff functioned like a town caught in political turmoil: bunkered in and vulnerable to no one.
Senior management, aware of the work culture, attempted change but none of their efforts really stuck: So many well-intended programs were introduced to the staff to increase productivity, that each new program took on a superficial quality. Flavor of the month is what they called it, says Deyman.
Its clear that Deyman and his colleague Kathy Durst dont fault the municipal employees for that attitude. Theres an understanding between the senior administrators and city staff members that wasnt there seven years ago. While we realized some major changes needed to happen, says Deyman, we also realized that no redirection, no real shift was going to take place without changing the corporate culture. Unless we were willing to include staff members from all different areas in a team for change, we werent going to earn the dedication we needed to pull this whole thing off.
Pulling The Whole Thing Off
The redesign team included 13 employees from a cross-section of levels and functions within the corporation. Their three-step process consisted of examining:
Immediately evident to the team was the need to clarify and simplify job functions within the organization. A reduction of hierarchical layers is one of the most noticeable changes, along with improved definitions of accountability and responsibility. People on the front line have to know theyre just as responsible for producing results, says Assistant Chief Administrative Officer and Director of Human Resources, Kathy Durst. Four distinct roles determine the responsibilities and expectations in the newly redesigned team-based structure, including team leaders, team members, directors and the chief administrative officer.
Visions and Values
Today it isnt easy to recognize Waterloo from seven years ago: Instead of a hierarchical structure, Waterloos city government consists of five core business units. And the term business is sincere. We have to care about everything that a regular business does, says Deyman. Our concern is delivering a specific product or service to customers. That means customer satisfaction, business functions and results should be easy to measure and improve.
Business units each have an internal business consultant, an individual who assists and facilitates the preparation of a business plan for each unit. Assisted by the finance staff and human resources these consultants work with the unit staff to research and learn from success stories in the public and private sectors. Waterloos business units now incorporate a balance between focus on the customers, operations, employees and finances. Each unit is made up of a team of 8-12 staff members, financial and business consultants and a team leader. To create a plan, the team asked these questions:
A plan was based on the results from these questions, and includes a long-term business framework, a detailed action plan for the first year and a clearly focused role for the business unit. The emphasis here is on clarity, says Deyman. Were strident in our pursuit of no fuzzy thinking. Each of the five core business units is comprised of smaller units which consolidate the functions and processes that deliver services to customers. Customer satisfaction, business functions and results are all accounted for within one unit, so its easier to keep track of and improve performance.
Not surprisingly, the City of Waterloo is proud of its
success. Deyman and Durst know wed like to live in their city, that
were daydreaming of huge cutting shears and streams of red tape falling
to the floor. They know a 10 percent reduction in the bottom line over three
years is worth some big bragging rights. And theyve been letting their
residents know about it, too. A video and annual publication, Were
Here for You, Waterloo, communicate the citys trials and triumphs,
and city officials present an information fair in local malls each year.