Here is an image many ratepayers have of our local councils …

Like any large organization, our local bodies undoubtedly have the full range of employees — from the truly outstanding to the mediocre.

In high performance-oriented organizations, it is not uncommon to evaluate and rank all employees on an annual basis (comparing apples to apples), identifying, for example, the top 20% performers, the middle 60%, and the bottom 20%. The bottom 20% are given clear guidance and support to improve their performance against reasonable standards and timeframes. But if they fail to improve, they are replaced. In other words, there’s systematic rotation at the bottom … it’s up or out for VP’s and PA’s alike. The goal is not workforce reduction; it’s peak performance. Too ruthless?

Let’s accentuate the positive and focus on the top 20%.

In previous Annual Plan submissions, I’ve proposed to the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils that each organization develop a program to publicly recognize each year its outstanding performers. Even more radical, I proposed that there might be one set of awards for which employees of all councils might compete. Maybe some non-Council people would participate in the review of nominees.

You see, I have this naive belief that all people like to be recognized for a job well done, and providing recognition — within peer groups and publicly, before one’s family — is a proven incentive to lift performance, both individually and across organizations.

Here in Hawke’s Bay, we applaud superior performance of all kinds, from winemakers to sheep shearers to debaters to business leaders … and our favourite, athletes.

Why not council employees?

Unfortunately, none of the councils liked the idea. Their response was that employee performance is an internal matter and that good performers were acknowledged “within the family.” In other words … none of your business. But councils’ performance is our business.

It’s true, occasionally a specific staff member will be commended at a council meeting for some job well done. But it’s very rare … and hardly the celebratory occasion that would both inspire others on staff to lift their game and also communicate a sense of council competence — even better, excellence — to the general public.

A public employee awards program would be good human resource management and good PR for councils … and good value for ratepayers — a win all around.

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. nice idea Tom… but who would you reward? problem is that in most Council scenarios, there is a team doing the work – and a team leader. in my experience it is generally the team leader who gets any praise … and some relatively quiet backroom person who actually does most of the best work.

    this "collective sheltering" is specifically designed to reinforce heirachy and the impression of a level playing field for same-level employees … and hide the under-achievers in the gaps. to openly pick out the real performers would require a reformation of council culture from top to bottom … and given that many so-so officers are in managerial positions, that will be resisted strongly.

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