The City of Fort Collins in Colorado is renowned among tourists and residents alike for its beautiful scenery, cultural attractions, and environmental focus, and among municipalities for their strong sense of organizational direction and performance management. Fort Collins understands the best performance reviews not only address metrics, but also encourage conversations about performance and actionable steps towards improvement. Yet, it hasn’t always been easy to review their performance like they do today.
A measured start to performance review
When Fort Collins started tracking their performance, they were entirely focused on metrics. They thought of their metrics in three distinct segments, like a pyramid. First, at the top, were the 38 metrics that demonstrate progress toward their 7 defined strategic Outcomes (for example, “Safe Community” and “Economic Health”). The second layer of metrics was a larger group tracked to assist with budget requests and to show how council funding contributed to performance. At the bottom of the pyramid was a broad range of foundational metrics geared towards daily operations rather than strategy.
The first performance review meetings began as a discussion of the top layer – the metrics on Fort Collins’ Community Dashboard. The executive team and department heads all participated in this meeting. However, it quickly became clear that a meeting this large was costly and did not hold everyone’s interest with so many metrics falling outside of each attendee’s department and areas of focus.
The strategy implementation team decided to adjust those meetings to separately focus on individual Service Areas, which are groups of related departments at the City. Each Service Area Director and their department heads would now meet quarterly with the City Manager, Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer in what were aptly named Quarterly Service Area Reviews (QSAR). All metrics contributing to budget requests would be reviewed in these discussions as well, since data could be sent out in advance. Fort Collins leveraged ClearPoint reports as pre-reading to show charts, data, evaluations and analysis. While this was an improvement, the budget metrics brought the total metric count to more than 400. It quickly became apparent that it was not possible to review so many metrics in the time allotted.
To reduce the bulk of information to review, department heads were asked to determine the 3-5 most important metrics they were tracking. This change narrowed the focus of meetings to less than 200 of these ‘primary’ metrics. Discussions improved, but there still wasn’t enough context around why these metrics were important. Additional adjustments were needed to be made to see the broader picture.
Broader focus for better meetings
In addition to the QSARs, Budget Director Lawrence Pollack was pushing for a more strategic level of executive review, one that focused on the City’s performance in achieving its biennial strategic plan. This time, Fort Collins shifted the focus away from the metrics themselves and turned their attention instead towards the Outcomes they were striving to achieve. For each key Outcome, the City’s strategic plan contained 5 to 9 strategic objectives that would be reviewed from the lens of the 3 to 4 metrics linked to each of them. In addition, the programs and services (aka initiatives) linked to those same strategic objectives, and funded in the budget, were reviewed as another lens to evaluate the City’s performance. This provided more context around funding and budgeting – what were the programs and services that the City was providing with the funding that was allocated? How did the performance of these initiatives translate to achieving the strategic objectives?
They call these new reviews Strategy Maps, with MAP standing for Metrics, Analysis and Performance. Different Outcomes are reviewed each month in a series of 40 to 50-minute meetings so that all Outcomes are addressed over the course of each quarter. Two ClearPoint reports – one for metrics, and one for initiatives – are sent out as pre-reading and used as the basis for each discussion. Pollack reports that “standardization of the material is key, as far as having people be able to read and review all the content in these reports.” During the reviews there is not enough time to discuss every metric and initiative tied to each strategic objective. That drives the need for materials to be read ahead of time so that the meeting can quickly celebrate successes and allow enough time to discuss the action plans being implemented to get underperforming metrics and initiatives back on track to maintain accountability.
Communicating the new process
Because they knew how much work had gone into crafting this review process, Pollack’s team implemented communication, documentation and training plans alongside the Strategy Maps. The structure helps to ensure that these reviews, along with their use of ClearPoint, is effective.
They were also adamant about making sure the process worked for everyone, so Pollack’s team scheduled quick, individual meetings with department heads to communicate about the process and ensure that needs were being met. They developed a review calendar to show timelines for each Outcome’s review, deadlines for data entry, and when pre-reading materials would be sent. The team periodically checked in more broadly to see what was working and what was not. And Pollack made sure departments knew they weren’t locked in to a process. “If you have a way to improve it,” he said, “then we’ll make those changes real-time throughout the year”. Likewise, Department Heads have the ability to modify existing metrics to improve their usefulness and even replace them completely with more meaningful metrics.
Mission, vision, values – and ongoing progress
So, how do these reviews and Strategy Maps align with a leadership system that puts heavy emphasis on Mission, Vision, and Values? At the top of the new pyramid, they have their key outcomes – the high-level goals that really drive Fort Collins’ vision. Supporting that are conversations about what the objectives are, and how to measure progress towards those objectives. Then, there are the commitments to the community via the budget – the programs and services designed to achieve the strategic objectives. And ClearPoint’s reporting platform allowed them to leverage the tool they already had in place for metrics as they expanded and developed this philosophy.
As a result of their effective reviews, Fort Collins no longer sees initiative statuses slipping as the year goes on. The continuous review ensures steady progress, so departments are not over-extended, and nothing gets forgotten. Feedback from across the organization indicates that departments are making more of a connection between reviewing progress and improving life for the Fort Collins community. They’ve learned there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and continuous improvement is key. So what advice would Pollack give those looking to improve their review process? Just get started!