City of Durham: Strategy Refresh & Organization Buy-in

“We wanted to make sure that data was not just being collected but being used to make decisions. We heard from our employees that there was a lot of hard work going into the data collection process, but they had a hard time seeing the results of that effort.”

The City of Durham was incorporated in 1869 and has a long, storied history of becoming the fourth largest city in North Carolina.

Introduction

Even though the city has been established for 150 years, the idea for their first strategic plan occurred in 2008. A new city manager was brought in and wanted to move Durham towards becoming a data driven organization by using data to inform decisions and to communicate the progress of the City to the community. 

The process to form the Strategic Plan involved the community in every aspect and in early 2011, the Durham City Council approved the City’s first ever Strategic Plan. In the same year, the City realized that they needed software to help manage their strategic plan and to communicate the progress of the Plan to the residents.  They chose ClearPoint to help create an outward facing platform for their City’s Strategic Plan and also started using ClearPoint to manage the 500+ measures being tracked by departments as part of their departmental strategic plans developed during this time as well.

Executing a Performance Management Program (Round One) 

The City of Durham was excited and motivated to have a strategic plan in place and used ClearPoint to help execute it. Creating an outward facing dashboard of the City’s new Strategic Plan proved to be the easy part.  The challenge came when departments were asked to track and manage all their data using ClearPoint.  This data included not only strategic measures but measures used for, departmental strategic plans and measures used in the budget book and budget presentations. It didn’t take long for City staff to realize that this process and approach had challenges. Limited resources were provided to manage the software which impacted training and process design. However, the main problem was there was no ownership of the performance program, and users were not held accountable for updating their performance measures and goals.  Nor were they made aware of how the data was being used.  Although data was being used frequently by senior staff, it appeared to be going into a black hole by front line staff. 

 By 2012, only a year after purchasing strategic planning software, most employees had stopped using the software for department performance tracking and relied heavily on Excel to track their goals and measures. While the City’s Strategic Plan was being managed in ClearPoint successfully, a new overall performance management structure was needed. 

 In 2014, performance staff and City leadership had a series of conversations about what a data driven organization looks like in Durham. They discussed short-term and long-term goals, and what the City Manager expected from department staff. At the end of that conversation, the City Manager bought into the idea that there needed to be a different way to execute a citywide performance management program, and that the culture of the City government needed to change.  

To begin the strategy refresh, Durham created a cross-sectional team to review the current performance management structure. This team included different directors, administrators, and employees. Over multiple meetings, they discussed challenges with current processes and cast vision on what the future could look like. Implementation plans were formed for the short-term and long-term on how to effectively execute their ideas. 

As the cross-sectional team formulated a plan, the City started an RFP process for a new software system to manage measures currently tracked in Excel (22 spreadsheet files with over 100 tabs). After the RFP process had ended, and the City examined at the capabilities of different strategic planning software, they once again selected ClearPoint.  Staff realized that ClearPoint 10.0 (the new and improved version just released) still met the needs and goals for tracking and sharing performance measures in the City but that a revised approach to implementing the system was needed.

Executing a Performance Management Program (Round Two) 

The City of Durham was ready to start fresh again in bringing data into the decision-making process. Not only did they have a fresh start with software, they had continued executive support from the City Manager’s Office, and a new “Office of Performance and Innovation” that focused staff resources solely on performance and strategic management. The performance management leaders understood that they needed one more item to fully execute their strategic plan moving forward; organizational buy-in. The City needed to create a structure that helped employees understand why performance was vital to a high performing organization.   

To create this structure, they first made the data entry process as easy as possible for employees. They eliminated areas where people were entering data two or three times in various spreadsheets and instead gave them access and ongoing training in how to enter data into ClearPoint. Creating organization capacity and providing ongoing training and support from a designated Performance Manager has paid dividends in getting the organizational buy-in to utilize the system. Additionally, creating more accountability has been key by assigning department directors as ultimately being responsible for each department’s measures.  Durham also increased the integration of data into the budget and planning process. Departments had to prove the need for new funding requests by providing data.  Employees started to see that the data they were collecting was being used to make important decisions. 

These new initiatives allowed for the creation of a structure where communication became more focused, and people were having conversations about the goals that mattered. Staff uses ClearPoint to create simple, yet efficient reports to keep department meetings concise and leave out the information that is not essential. The City of Durham’s story is an example of learning from mistakes, and creating a performance management system that allows for organization buy-in. Strategic planning and performance management is an iterative process. You need to get started and learn as you go. As Durham moves towards the future, they proudly track and measure data needed for decision making from the highest-level of their organization down to each individual employee.   


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