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Performance Excellence "Down Under"

With Annalisa Haskell

Over the holidays, I used a personal visit to Sydney, Australia, as an opportunity to bring greetings from Executive Director Marc Ott and to learn more about how performance management is practiced by local government professionals “down under.” Lauren Oakey, executive director of Local Government Professionals Australia ( LGPA), an international ICMA affiliate, invited me after discussions with ICMA staff at the 2016 Annual Conference.

Learning from International Experience

Annalisa Haskell, chief executive officer of Local Government Professionals Australia-New South Wales ( LGPA-NSW), invited me for coffee on the beach in Manly to learn more about the Local Government Operational and Management Effectiveness Programme in NSW.

Carried out in collaboration with corporate partner PwC, the very successful program, now in its fifth year, has spread from a handful of jurisdictions in New South Wales to 135 members in the states of NSW and Western Australia and international partners in New Zealand. LGPA feels the program is gaining interest nationwide and anticipates adding participants from Tasmania and South Australia shortly. The long-term vision is an Australasia Performance Excellence Programme that will include other Pacific Rim counties.

How the Australian Program Works

The performance program in Australia is similar to efforts in the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada. Professional managers recognize the need to improve the operational effectiveness and efficiency of government and to quantify measures of success. This is done to allow chief executive officers to better understand their own performance and discover opportunities to improve it. In addition, a common database allows managers to see how their operations compare with other local governments, perhaps understand the reasons they differ from aggregate national data, and learn from the performance metrics of similar jurisdictions.

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The corporate assistance of PwC has supported LGPA-NSW and helped the program gain widespread acceptance. PwC offers professional training and analytical expertise and provides a participant’s manual and a common platform (“Datapoint”) to assist in data gathering. Data are collected in a 70-question survey covering such areas as workforce management, financial management, operations management, risk management, corporate leadership, asset management, and financial data. Results can be analyzed by population and other factors that permit comparison.

State Mandates Drive Performance Efforts

While there are commonalities among performance management efforts in in many countries, some countries outside the U.S. are subject to specific drivers. In New South Wales, for example, the state government has mandated a controversial program of “amalgamation” or consolidation of smaller governments for efficiencies, similar to what has occurred in New Zealand. This has made managers more aware of the need to examine their current performance--both for self-education and as a baseline for evaluating the effects of consolidation. One of the population cohorts in the program is made up of consolidated jurisdictions.

As a result of my visit, I believe we can learn much from our Australian counterparts. An enhanced focus on local government performance management, utilization of performance analytics, and the facilitation of comparison and understanding of best practices are international professional practices whose time has come. ICMA is committed to promoting performance management and developing a set of agreed-upon performance metrics for comparison.

I left with a renewed appreciation for the educational opportunities offered by ICMA’s worldwide professional network.

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