Setting New Standards For Divisional Performance At Austin Resource Recovery

Learn divisional performance best practices from a city that has successfully reimagined its processes.

To tell the real story about how your organization is performing, you need data. For local governments, that data is flowing in from many different sources, and it can be difficult to ensure the information is timely, accurate, and accessible. In this article, we’ll explain how leaders at Austin Resource Recovery (ARR), a department within the City of Austin, completely changed their approach to performance management, with great success.

The Evolution Of ARR’s Divisional Performance Measurements

Prior to 2016, only a few divisions within ARR had visibility into their own performance measures and associated data. One massive Access database served as an information repository and was managed by a single analyst. For most of ARR’s staff, it was unclear how the data was inputted, results were calculated, and decisions were made using performance metrics; there were also no set standards on what data should be tracked and measured. In other words—there was a lot of gray area when it came to performance management.

In early 2016, ARR decided to invest in performance management software to solve these issues. The department’s primary goals were to:

  • Develop performance measures that tie directly to ARR’s budget
  • Standardize divisional performance measurement
  • Track measures over time to identify trends
  • Centralize data to make it more visible and accessible to department staff

ARR chose ClearPoint’s performance management software and began transitioning from the Access database in June 2016. The entire process of transitioning from Access to ClearPoint—including training internal teams, porting over historical data, creating performance management standards, and completing a short “beta” launch—took about nine months. In the next sections, we’ll dive into some of the best practices ARR implemented during that time.

How ARR Got Buy-In On Divisional Performance Measurement

While ARR admits there was a lot of change management during implementation and hard work involved in setting initial performance measurement standards, the department quickly acclimated and excelled. One of the big reasons ARR was able to hit the ground running was the amount of effort put into getting buy-in from stakeholders.

“We knew getting buy-in from the top would be important in order to standardize the process and hold people accountable,” notes Shana Riviello, Senior Business Process Consultant for the City of Austin. To do that, the performance management team took a few critical actions:

  • They set clear divisional performance measurement standards.
  • They drafted a memo to internal stakeholders that outlined data submission deadlines and accuracy standards, and named data owners in each division.
  • They held in-depth trainings with process owners to review expectations (communicating the importance of each person’s role and their data) and learn ClearPoint’s system.
  • They created appealing reports and dashboards that translated the data to aid in decision making.

The processes were clear cut and standardized; plus, ClearPoint’s automated tools like the Data Loader and email reminders drastically simplified and reduced the time it took to gather and report out on information. Division representatives all have ClearPoint accounts and are responsible for entering their own data—this gives them both control and visibility.

Setting clear expectations and delegating data ownership to division representatives alleviated the need to bring in any extra resources. In other words, ARR didn’t have to hire new staff or invest in any technology aside from ClearPoint to revolutionize divisional performance management—an advantage that generated additional buy-in from senior leadership.

“We put the responsibility back into the process, where it should be, instead of in the hands of a single Access manager,” says Mike Turner, Quality Assurance division manager for ARR.

Solving Performance Management Challenges

Even the most streamlined processes need fine-tuning, which ARR has done over the past three years. Here are some of the effective ways they’ve reinforced or adapted their divisional performance measurement processes:

  • They send reminder emails for data submission deadlines.
    All data submissions from division representatives are due on the 20th of each month. Two days prior to the deadline, ARR’s performance management team pulls a report from ClearPoint that lists any missing information and sends automated reminder emails to any owner whose data hasn’t been submitted. This proactive approach has helped institutionalize the deadlines.
  • They hold owners accountable for late submissions.
    If information is late (or expected to be late), division representatives must email someone from the performance management team and their division manager with the reason. From there, the group can determine how to solve the delay or prevent it from happening the next month.
  • They encourage collaboration and open discussions.
    ARR knew that tracking and measuring performance was a group effort that wouldn’t succeed unless it established an environment of collaboration and partnership with internal customers. Open discussions have allowed ARR to modify processes when necessary for the benefit of all.

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Two Successful Performance Measurements

Example of a divisional performance dashboard

Here are a few of ARR’s most successful improvements to divisional performance measurement:

Incidents & Injuries

For years, the City of Austin has had discrepancies on the number of reported safety incidents. ARR’s safety team, insurance provider, and worker’s compensation team all tracked incident numbers and the resulting “lost time” using different metrics. The inconsistencies typically weren’t discovered until the end of the year in the annual report, and caused both internal auditing and public transparency issues.

By using a performance management system where department owners were responsible for their own data, the discrepancies surfaced much faster and data sources could be verified more easily. The performance management team gathered all involved teams to discuss the issue and then decided how to consistently track lost time and report on injuries and incidents. While this process will likely need to be revisited due to its importance, ARR was able to solve a long-standing issue, and has eliminated that discrepancy between the department and city’s numbers in regard to lost-time injuries.

Tonnage Reporting

Performance measures related to tonnage collected were regularly submitted outside of the established deadline, which created problems. These were critical measures that tied to other calculations within the system, and the data was needed for a monthly report ARR sends to one of its commissions.

Investigating the trend of untimeliness, ARR discovered that the data had been consistently delayed because of employee turnover. A person had left their role and didn’t tell the new hire about this report, creating a domino effect that delayed the data submission month after month. That underlying, buried issue would have never come to light if the performance measurement processes hadn’t been so clearly established and visible within ClearPoint.

“Data is virtually worthless without being able to translate it into usable information,” says Turner. “Your data should become a storyboard that helps you make decisions.”

Data is virtually worthless without being able to translate it into usable information. Click To Tweet

Advice For Others On Divisional Performance Management

After three years of successfully reimagining its divisional performance measurements, ARR has experience that’s worth learning from. Here are wise words from two of ARR’s leaders:

Riviello: “Take a lot of time to plan and be ready to implement your new performance management processes. Once you initiate change, you're opening a can of worms and need to be prepared. Set very clear expectations and give yourself at least a three-month window of overlap if you’re transitioning from an old to new system.”

“From a team perspective, be as transparent as possible. People can get nervous or protective when you start diving into their processes, which is inevitably going to happen with performance management. Make sure people have a clear understanding of the impact their data has, how important their role is, and why you need to really understand their process and have them contribute.”

Turner: “You need data. Having accurate data—whether it's good, bad, or indifferent—and visibility into that information is crucial to understanding how your organization is performing. Performance indicators are one of the key themes that any organization needs to understand to be successful. Being able to tell that data story is important, not only because your budget is tied to those performance measures, but also because it helps you identify where you need to grow, shrink, and better manage your organization.”

To learn more about how ClearPoint can help you manage divisional performance, as well as everything from your strategic plan to projects, contact us.

Setting New Standards For Divisional Performance At Austin Resource Recovery