Increasing Productivity and Accountability

In order to improve services while controlling costs, we need to increase productivity. By setting clear goals and giving our employees the tools they need to succeed, then providing useful feedback on how we are doing, we can deliver better services for the people of Newton.

Summary of Proposed Solution

In order to get the results consistent with the expectations and values of Newton residents, it necessary to create a culture of excellence at City Hall. We must expect excellence from our elected and appointed officials and from our staff— starting from the top. We need to create an atmosphere in which everyone takes pride in their work and knows that they are making a real difference. Towards this end, we recommend the following initiatives:

i) Involve employees in setting objectives and planning for results;

ii) Provide employees with the tools and training they need to succeed;

iii) Use project teams and neighborhood-based services to improve our ability to track results and to improve services;

iv) Provide employees and contractors with feedback on their work;

v) Document important processes, so that work can be continued without interruption when someone is sick or leaves the employ of the City.

vi) Update human resources practices;

vii) Adopt total quality management (TQM) protocols; and

viii) Introduce competition (both internal and external) to cost centers.

Discussion and Implementation Plan

i) Involving Employees in Setting Objectives

Our employees are our most valuable asset. Many have ideas and insights into how we could improve operational efficiency and productivity, but in our current climate are hesitant to offer suggestions as they believe their ideas will be ignored. We should involve all employees in the process of planning departmental operations to achieve our objectives. Employees whose ideas are valued and who have a role in the decision-making process are more highly motivated and productive and much more invested in seeing objectives achieved.

ii) Providing Employees with Better Tools and Training

Even the most highly motivated employee is hard pressed to achieve high levels of performance without the proper tools and training. We should show our employees how much we value them by providing them with high-quality training, supplies, and equipment. In particular, we should make sure all of our employees who are exposed to work-related dangers have up-to-date safety equipment. Not only is protecting the health and safety of our workforce the right thing to do, it is also a sound investment.

iii) Using Project Teams and Neighborhood-Based Services

Two related techniques that have been shown to increase productivity and accountability in other communities are project teams and neighborhood-based services. Project teams are groups of employees who are assigned to work together and whose performance is evaluated as a group. Neighborhood-based services means creating relationships between neighborhoods and employees. For example, there are currently eighteen Parks and Recreation Department employees maintaining thirty-five parks. If two-member project teams were assigned four parks each, they could work with neighborhood associations and local volunteers to keep their parks in great shape. Customer satisfaction with the maintenance and cleanliness of each park would be measured, fostering a sense of competition among the teams to achieve the best results.

iv) Providing Feedback to Employees and Contractors

Employees should be given access to NewtonStat, so that they know the public’s satisfaction level with their work. Outstanding employees should be recognized with awards and, where possible in the context of legal and contractual obligations – financial bonuses. Employees should be provided with annual performance evaluations and should receive feedback on a more frequent basis. The Mayor should personally thank top performers each month. It should be made clear that we have high expectations, but that we will do everything we can to help our employees meet and exceed those expectations.

v) Document Important Processes

Far too much time is wasted when only one employee knows how to perform an important function, such as getting information from a computer program. By documenting in clear, easy-to-follow terms important processes, we will save time, eliminate road blocks, and reduce errors. Also, with well-documented procedures, work can be continued without interruption when someone is sick or leaves the employ of the City.

vi) Updating Human Resources Practices

Most businesses and other organizations the size of the City of Newton have learned that they need to adopt modern human resources practices to get the most out of their workforces. In addition to providing employees with feedback and offering training and tools, as discussed above, these practices include: conducting exit interviews for departing employees to learn why they are leaving and what knowledge they can pass on to successors; issuing benefits statements that show employees the total value of their compensation; conducting succession planning to make sure productivity is not harmed by vacancies in key positions; and developing and adopting procedures for sharing skills and knowledge, so that when an employee is sick or leaves the City someone can step in and take over their important responsibilities seamlessly until a successor is hired. We should develop a skills bank and cross-training programs, so that employees can cover functions in other departments and train one another. We should also develop a program for recognizing excellence among our employees, including offering innovation awards. In addition, we should develop a procedure for evaluating the importance and urgency of filling vacant positions and/or temporarily filling vacant positions (or at least covering key responsibilities) through internal loan or transfer of employees.

vii) Adopting Total Quality Management (TQM) Protocols

Businesses have long benefited from the operational improvements of TQM and in recent years, many cities and towns have begun to adopt its precepts. Recently, versions of TQM tailored to municipal government have been developed and prototyped around the country. We should investigate some of the successful models, such as Lean Six Sigma, and adopt the best practices in Newton.

viii) Introducing Competition to Cost Centers

Testing the market is very important to controlling costs. That means making sure contracts are put out to public bid and structured to attract multiple competitive bidders. It also means opening up some functions to internal competition or cooperation with other cities and towns and determining which service delivery method is most cost-effective.