The election is over – are you ready for the Service Delivery Review?

Phew, the election is over and new councils and councillors are looking around at their communities and wondering what comes next.  With lots of new councillors and councils, there will inevitably be calls for “Service Delivery Reviews” of one kind or another.  Some view SDR as an audit of existing services to find the “gravy” that the other guys missed, others see them as a chance to build a new vision or a strategic plan, and others a way to reduce or limit tax growth.  Whatever the reason, the success of an SDR exercise is dependent on the opening decisions and the concluding plans for follow through. A well planned and executed service delivery review can lead to eye opening discoveries, exciting future plans and a culture of continuous improvement.  A badly executed one can lead to years of resentment and retrenchment that can be difficult to recover from.  Is your municipality ready to consider a service delivery review and if not, how can you take the steps to make it possible?

Fortunately there are a few simple questions you can ask about readiness and some simple steps you can take to make your SDR more likely to succeed.
1)     Who is driving this Service Delivery Review?
  • If Council is the driver or instigator, are your senior mangers on side, or resentful of yet another challenge to their competence?  Service delivery review doesn’t have to be threatening, but it can be uncomfortable.  If your Council is the driver, make sure you understand their motives and the outcomes they expect.  Without giving in to what may feel like unreasonable demands to find misfeasance, reframe the SDR as an opportunity for learning and find a trusted administrator to act as the internal champion who has good rapport with both Council and staff.  Think of the Toronto administrators in the wake of Rob Ford’s demand to end the gravy train.
  • If senior management are driving the SDR, make sure they are aligned to a clear, not vague, statement of outcomes (see “Why are you doing it?” below).  Try and avoid letting a well-regarded senior manager act in a cynical or oppositional role.  I’ve been there and it isn’t fun.  If you can’t align your senior team, you will find it hard for your SDR to succeed.
SDR doesn't have to go down the rabbit hole.

SDR doesn’t have to go down the rabbit hole.

2)     Why are you doing it?
  • It is not wrong to say you are conducting your SDR to find savings or efficiencies, or even to cut taxes or reduce staff.  Tight budgets are a reality and staff respond better to honesty than ambiguity.  However, you can get the best bang for the work by being open minded about the kinds of opportunities the SDR might illuminate.  If you maintain a focus on both efficiencies and outcomes, you can obtain better staff support and often find that there are “low-cost” or “no-cost” options to improve outcomes.  Be realistic about the amount of savings you can find.  If you claim that there is 10% fat in your municipal budget after everything we have been through in the 2000’s then you are declaring at the outset that your managers and finance staff are incompetent (as well as yourself).  Unless you are prepared to eliminate discretionary services or gut mandatory ones, you will not find 10% operating savings.  The most important thing is that your stated SDR outcome is clear and deliverable, such as “we are seeking to reduce overall costs while seeking improved outcomes for our clients but we will not sacrifice client outcomes for savings.”
3)     How are you going to do it?
  • Keep it on the front burner.  A successful SDR does not happen off the side of your desk, or anyone else’s.  Your project will require you to mobilize many staff and managers in your organization while also managing the rumours, hopes and fears of staff who are not directly involved.  At the same time you will be expected to be on time and on budget with real results.  As soon as you miss a timeline or a budget, your SDR loses credibility as it is exactly the sort of project that is held to a higher standard.
  • Dedicate a project manager / leader.  This doesn’t have to be their full time job, unless you are not planning to engage a skilled consultant.  But it does have to be a significant focus of their time and skill.  They should have change management and communications skills and be able to remain calm under fire.  Their integrity will be their strongest asset since they will be the face of potentially uncomfortable processes and decisions.
  • Dedicate a project champion / sponsor.  This person needs to be rock steady commited to the idea of service delivery review.  Mercurial sponsors can easily undermine the progress you make by seeming non-committal or twisting in the political winds.
  • Consider a consultant.  There are a variety of consultants that practice in this area (full disclosure:  including me).  Some are more focussed on the money side of the review, others on the process side including LEAN – SixSigma specialists, and others on the community impact or outcome.  Having a sense of what your outcomes are will help you stay on track.
  • Plan for unknowns.  A well run SDR project will lift the lid on your organization.  Leaving space for emerging issues or innovations will give your SDR project added value and credibility.
If a Service Delivery Review is on your horizon, you are in the fortunate position of having the time and opportunity to take a strategic and comprehensive look at your municipality.  Planning well will help you get the best out of the project and your team.
For more information check out some of the resources at Munro Strategic Perspective.