10 What does a golfer, tennis player or cricketer (or any other professional sportsperson) focus on to achieve high performance? They nearly always give the same answer: “Repeat my process (that is the process they have practised a million times) – replicate it under real pressure and trust in my ability” That’s why Matthew Lloyd throws the grass up under the roof at Etihad Stadium. It is why Ricky Ponting taps the bat, looks down, looks up and mouths “watch the ball”. It’s unnecessary for Matthew Lloyd to toss the grass. There’s no wind under the roof – it’s simply a routine that enables him to replicate his process under pressure.
Ricky Pointing knows you have to watch the ball. Ponting wants the auto pilot light in his brain to fl ick on as he mutters “watch the ball”.
High performance in sport is achieved through focusing on your processes, not the scores.
It is absolutely no different in local government. Our business is governance and we need to be focusing very hard on our governance processes. We need to learn these processes, modify them when necessary, understand them deeply, repeat them under pressure and trust in our capabilities to deliver. If we do that, the scores will look after themselves.
I want to share with you my ten most important elements in the governance process. Let me fi rst say that good governance is the set of processes, protocols, rules, relationships and behaviours which lead to consistently good decisions. In the end good governance is good decisions. You could make lots of good decisions without good governance. But you will eventually run out of luck – eventually, bad governance process will lead to bad decisions. Consistently good decisions come from good governance processes and practices.
Good governance is not only a prerequisite for consistently good decisions, it is almost the sole determinant of your reputation. The way you govern, the ‘vibe’ in the community and in the local paper about the way you govern is almost the sole determinant of your reputation. Believe me, if reputation matters to you, then drive improvements through good governance.
So here are the ten core elements:
1. THE COUNCIL PLAN An articulate council plan is a fundamental fi rst step to achieving your goals. It is your set of promises to your community for a four-year term.
Unfortunately, there are too many wrong plans: • Claytons Plans – say too little and are too bland. Delete the
name of the council from these plans and you can’t tell whose it is! There’s no ‘vibe’ at all.
• Agreeable Plans – where everyone gets their bit in the plan. There’s no sense of priorities, everyone agrees with everything in the plan and we save all the real fi ghts and confl icts to be fought out one by one over the four-year term.
• Opposition-creating Plans – we don’t do this so often but we sometimes ‘use the numbers’ to enable the dominant group of councillors to achieve their goals and fail to accommodate the non-dominant group’s agenda at all. Accordingly, we create an opposition and assign these councillors to the opposition benches for the council term. An articulate council plan is the least you owe your citizens.
2. POLICY DEVELOPMENT As a sector we undertake too little policy development which supports the achievement of our strategic goals. Yet goals or objectives are what we want to achieve. For example, economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, community safety and cohesion are all goals.
Strategies are simply ideas on how to achieve goals. For example, if economic prosperity is our goal then attracting new investment is one of the ‘get there’ strategies.
Policies are council ‘rules’ or ‘boundaries’ that establish a specifi c treatment of a general circumstance. For example, if our goal is economic prosperity and our strategy is investment attraction then our policy might be “no rates for fi ve years for new businesses employing more than 50 people”.
There is much too little policy development in the pursuit of council goals.
3. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT We all make mistakes in this area, but here are my fi ve top tips: (a) It works best when underpinned by a previously articulated
and understood strategic vision – • People need understand where we are headed before they are
comfortable discussing how we get there. • The strategic vision, the big picture, creates legitimacy for the
many decisions, some controversial, along the journey. (b) There is no place for spin. This is all about transparency – it’s
not so much what we decided at last week’s council meeting but why we reached that decision. There are four reasons to engage –
• Are we keeping promises (accountability)? • Are we grasping new opportunities (leadership)?
18 | GN | FEBRUARY/MARCH 2010
STEPS TO GOOD GOVERNANCE
You know that good governance is important, but how does your council get there? Philip Shanahan has some simple solutions.
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2010 | GN | 19
• Can people infl uence decisions (participation)? • Can people access services and opportunities (access and
inclusion)? (c) Repetition and simplicity – we compete for people’s attention
in this marketplace. When you are sick of telling them, they’ve just started listening.
(d) Be clear about the engagement you seek. Use an accredited model like the International Association for Public Participation’s system to match the kind of community input you are really seeking with the engagement strategy you are employing.
(e) Be multi faceted. All the tools at our disposal are appropriate in different situations. Try using Twitter, blogging or just delivering an A4-sheet to every home in a street about to be reconstructed to tell them how much it costs, who is the contractor, why the street needs a total makeover and who to ring with problems.
4. CEO MANAGEMENT Some still don’t understand the fundamental importance of properly managing the CEO. There is absolutely no place for ‘folksy’ arrangements. And those who treat CEO performance management light-heartedly or without rigour don’t understand the power of the process to achieve real results.
5. COUNCIL MEETINGS The single most important governance activity which forges a governance reputation is the council meetings.
They create the governance vibe in your municipality. Some tips:
(a) Fill each agenda with strategic, broad issues straight from the council plan. If people aren’t talking about the issues in the pub, why are these issues on your agenda? I get annoyed when people congratulate themselves on a quick council meeting – aren’t there any problems in those municipalities? Quality agendas need quality planning and preparation.
(b) Every council meeting should demonstrate who is in charge – by the way, councillors are – so:
• Staff don’t talk much. • No ‘received’ or ‘to be noted’ recommendations – every
report must invite councillor intervention. • Interventions from councillors need to be organised – who is
the council ‘whip’? • Every report includes sound expert advice, information and
evidence. • Always be briefed, agree on no surprises or ambushes.
6. REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNANCE Most thinking about governance is about corporate governance – councillors acting as a council. However, the electoral system seems to mimic state and federal governments – councillors feel like a representative. Citizens treat councillors as a representative. They reckon they are a constituent. Local governments must develop sophisticated systems and protocols that enable councillors to handle constituent representations. However, those systems and protocols need to protect and enhance corporate governance – not undermine it.
7. STEWARDSHIP AND BUSINESS MANAGEMENT Councillors have an obligation to act in the long-term best interests of the municipality. That’s stewardship. So: • Monitor progress • Manage assets • Leave the municipality in better state than you found it • Understand the long term implications of decisions • Manage risks • Strive to improve service effectiveness and effi ciency.
8. RELATIONSHIPS Relationships are usually affected by behaviours. Where behaviour causes collateral damage to relationships we often get people in the decision making process ‘playing the man not the ball’. That is, being in confl ict with a person instead of their opinion.
Poor relationships, regrettably, usually result in lousy decisions. Councillors and their colleagues are all on the government benches – relationships usually matter.
9. ADVOCACY It’s very important to your community. We already know that a signifi cant improvement in your community’s rating of your advocacy effort will almost always be accompanied by improved ratings for all of your services and your overall performance.
Advocacy works best when it comes from previous articulated strategic positions. In other words, if something is really important to your community, it ought to be in your council plan. ‘Left fi eld’ advocacy is seldom appreciated and sometimes a downright failure.
10. ETHICS This is obvious. If they think you are dodgy, your good governance reputation is in tatters. If in some circumstance you feel confl icted, remember two things. Firstly, how would you feel if the whole story was on the front page of the local paper – except your side of the story. Secondly, use your instincts and intuition to help you decide what is best. Then check the rules very carefully. If you only look at the rules, you’re bound to get confused and miss the point.
So those are my ten key concepts. Good governance isn’t so hard – it just deserves our careful attention.
“WE NEED TO LEARN THESE PROCESSES, MODIFY THEM WHEN NECESSARY, UNDERSTAND THEM DEEPLY, REPEAT THEM UNDER PRESSURE AND TRUST IN OUR CAPABILITIES TO DELIVER.”
PHILIP SHANAHAN IS A FORMER CEO OF
DAREBIN CITY COUNCIL. HE HAS WORKED IN LOCAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT FOR
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